Thoughts   Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, RiverHead Books 2002, 582 pages

MOTIVATION to READ:     As adhoc volunteer librarian at the nursing home, I am charged with the ‘disposing’ of books that are not Large Print.    I found this book and ‘rescued’ it by taking it home with me.  SCORE!    I had seen it on many favorites lists and was aware that it was a finalist for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

FIRST SENTENCE:  “My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder.”

WHAT’s it ABOUT:    Young Sue, an orphan, has been brought up in a family of thieves in Victorian London.   She has been invited to scam a young lady named Maud who will inherit a fortune upon marrying.   The scheme involves a scoundrel to be the groom, Sue to be the lady’s maid and help further the affections of Maud so she will agree to elope, and a subsequent dumping of the poor bride into a madhouse soon thereafter.   Sue and her family of thieves will get a slice of the fortune for helping but once she meets Maud, begins to have doubts and misgivings.

WHAT’s GOOD/NOT so GOOD:     I really meant to take good notes but was so enthralled and swept along that I could only manage turning down the pages that had great quotes or hinted that a refer-back might be necessary.     The book essentially has three parts – the first is Sue’s telling and features many, almost TOO many – points (?) of foreshadowing.    She was endearing but I was wondering if knowing that plot twists were ahead AND that Sue was hinting that the players were NOT what they seemed made me wonder if it was too heavy-handed and this thinking I was doing was tedious – only perhaps because I wasn’t sure of what was going on but knew I was supposed to be wondering what the heck was up!   OF COURSE, we can’t trust the scoundrel!    Of course, Maud’s upbringing was bizarre…

The second part was Maud’s version of the same events.    I was really captivated and my own guesses were all over the map about who and what she was.    I really enjoyed seeing the same actions through another character’s eyes and was delighted by this part tremendously.

The third part is the fast-paced race to the conclusion.     I enjoyed the ride; especially when I told myself to stop analyzing and guessing and just get carried away.    I was conflicted with my tendency to question how Ms. Waters had structured the whole thing and wanting to be analytical for the sake of this COBC but also not wanting to stop so I could wallow in the WHAT-is-HAPPENING madness!

The gloves.    Let’s discuss the gloves, shall we?    They are on the cover so we know they mean something.    OK, maybe that’s not true but once they were mentioned, I knew I had to pay attention.   Honestly, they bugged me a lot.  I’m going to go out on a shaky limb and say, for me being all uneducated to literary devices (etc ad nauseam) but fascinated nonetheless, the glove theme represents how we can try as we might to not get involved and keep our hands somewhat clean;  but once immersed, we can’t help but get a little dirty.   Especially considering how Maud is educated and thus required to help her uncle.  Once you’ve got your hand into the mischief, you’re in it all the way?     And yet, how knowledgeable she was about certain topics and yet ignorant to the big picture?    I think the gloves can also represent the fallacy of class – people are people?      Born to it or not, once things get all mixed up, you can’t just take a blood test and find out you are ‘better’ than the common street urchin.   The themes of class and gender/sexuality get turned upside down; at least expectations and reality get a bit jumbled.

FINAL THOUGHTS:    I do think Waters wrote a masterful story – exciting, great characters, dark settings.    For more thoughts of mine, click over here to my Spoilerful Fingersmith post.

RATING:     Four slices of pie.    What flavor?   MINCEMEAT.

OTHER REVIEWS:    See my previous post for links of participant reviews of Fingersmith:   COBC DAY!



Copyright © 2010. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

38 thoughts on “Fingersmith

  1. Lovely review Care! And your thoughts on the gloves are fascinating. I have to admit that I hadn’t really given them much thought, your ideas make sense though.

    About the foreshadowing, I didn’t notice as much as you did, maybe because I had prepared myself for plot twists? And for me the foreshadowing really only lend a sense of urgency and curiosity to the story. But I am easily swept along by stories, too easily sometimes. I wonder if it bothered other co-readers?

    1. Thank you! Thanks so much for participating. I think I’ve been attempting to lean to more literature-analysis and have been thinking about symbolism. You don’t think I was just reaching, then? 🙂

  2. While I love four slices of pie, I really don’t like mincemeat… but I think I’ll try this book anyway 😉 especially as it is already on my tbr pile! It sounds really good!

  3. Mincemeat pie! Well, it definitely sounds like an interesting novel — yours is the first review I’ve really focused on, and I think it’s something I would like. Anything set in England typically gets my attention, regardless of the plot! Great review!

    1. I just had a friend CALL me and ask why mincemeat! So I guess I better explain it – I think of mincemeat as being savory, (and in this case of scoundrel criminals, ‘UN-savory’, get it? AND a jumble of interesting ingredients. Mincemeat also has liquor in it. Take that for what you will.

  4. I am with Iris. The foreshadowing did not bother me. I knew there would be a surprise in store when Sue says that she gets confused in remembering who was conning who but I was not prepared for the swap in perspective. I really liked that. I flipped back and forth to re-read Sue’s version to compare to Maud’s recounting of events.

    Care, I like your interpretation of the gloves. When I was reading the book, I just figured Sue kept them as a keepsake. But I like the idea that they can also represent Maud’s wanting to keep free of the “work” she does for her Uncle.

    1. I got tripped by the frequent mention of gloves so that it made wonder about them.

      I, too, loved the swap in perspective of the events of Sue and Maud meeting and starting their ‘association’.

    1. oh no! NOT everyone. Which actually shows that it is a good book to provoke SOMETHING. I enjoyed it overall. It’s quite a page-turner.

  5. I am working on my first Sarah Waters, Affinity, as we speak! I’m enjoying it, but I’m interested to see what her other works are like. Fingersmith seems to be one of the most popular…

    1. I *found* a copy of this so that is why I read this one first but I think the first Waters book I tbr’d was Tipping the Velvet.

    1. I didn’t have any time last week for blogging because I had relatives in town and that means I have to play tourguide (which is fun, but it takes me away from the PC – don’t want to be rude, yaknow?) Anywho, what was I going to say? OH YEA- I understand. I just bet you find it a fun read. 🙂

  6. Wow, I’m so impressed with your review. It never occurred to me even to think about the gloves! This is why I love so much reading other reviews – I get these amazing insights and it really adds to my enjoyment of books!

  7. nice find and rescue! i’ve also seen this one around the way but am leery of books that overuse foreshadowing and other literary elements. not to say i won’t give it a go if i come across it, though! four slices of pie sounds good to me!

    1. What was rather interesting was that when the second part started with Maud’s voice, the foreshadowing ceased. Or my noticing it?!

  8. Hmmm… it seems like I’m about the only person who didn’t like this book very much! I read the whole thing, but it felt like more of a slog than a story I was excited about. I think the fact that all the characters are sort of unlikeable (at least for me) was at part of it. I ended up finishing because I was curious what happened — tons of twists and turns, that’s for sure — but I’m not sure the page count to enjoyment ratio was as high as I would have wanted it to be 🙂

    1. oh, I’ve seen some lukewarm responses and one not favorable so you are not alone.
      So is this a new rating system? Page count to enjoyment ratio?!

        1. Thinking analytically, I could see an easy count divided by the 5 star/pie whatever… Then at the end of year when you look at your books read and do a mental eval of best books read (ranked best to worst?!), then see if the corresponding ratio ‘gets in line’, so to speak. I doubt it will, however. More of a curiosity?

          ?? Nope. I’m not seeing it. WE don’t have time for this!


  9. I have yet to read any of Waters’ books but I’m told this is her best. So I’ve got Little Stranger and will work my way up to this one if I like that.

  10. It’s funny, but other than my own, all I’ve seen are 100% positive reviews. It’s nice to see one where you liked the book, but had a couple issues too. I’m off to see the spoiler-full version…

    1. Yes, I think I was generous in wanting to like the book and this time, it worked! Sometimes, expectations make the experience worse – but this time, I did let myself get caught up and I can say, I liked it very much.

  11. I have been meaning to read Waters for a while now. Perhaps I’ll start with this one, but I too can get annoyed by too much foreshadowing. Usually, though, it’s okay because I never see twists coming anyway. 🙂

  12. Great review.:) I havent read any of Waters’ books yet- YET. I loved your review of this one though! And I love how you get some of your books!

  13. Tons of foreshadowing, I agree — but for some reason I really guarded myself against guessing what was going to happen and I totally did not see that first twist. I loved it!

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