Author: Sarah Waters
Release Date: February 3, 2002
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Sue Trinder is a pickpocket, or a “fingersmith” in Victorian London. She is an orphan but lives in a house of thieves. One day, a con man named Richard Rivers comes to Sue’s home and offers her a small fortune in order to help him con a woman named Maud Lilly. All Sue has to do is become Maud’s maid for awhile, and once it’s over, she’ll have more money than she knows what to do with. But after Sue meets Maud and finds her to be gentle and sweet, she begins to have second thoughts about the nefarious plan she is participating in.
Fingersmith is an amazing piece of Victorian fiction. The book is reminiscent of Dickens as it portrays London’s underclass. Sue is a rather desperate individual at the beginning of the book, scheming in order to be able to survive from day to day. She transforms beautifully into a lady’s maid, demonstrating how skillful and at the same time, how innocent and naive she really is. Sue certainly isn’t the most endearing character at the beginning of the book, but she quickly worms her way into the reader’s heart. Though she is “bad,” the reader can’t help but root for her, especially through all the twists and turns of the book.
This is a book with ups and downs, with amazing twists and shocking turns. Sarah Waters really takes the reader on a roller coaster ride. Any expectations the reader might have are defied incredibly quickly as Waters shows her mastery of the craft of writing. Her words are beautiful, her language sublime, and her writing skill is impeccable as she leads the reader down this path.
The story is divided into different sections, with both Maud and Susan narrating. This is wonderfully effective, as it gets the reader inside both of their heads. The fact that Susan tells the first part of the story makes the reader sympathetic towards her. However, when Maud takes over and the complexity of the book begins to be revealed, the reader’s sympathies are torn, which makes the novel that much more gripping.
Fingersmith was a wonderful book that I highly recommend to anyone interested in historical literary fiction. Waters is an amazing writer and I’m only sorry I haven’t picked up more of her work before now, though I loved The Little Stranger.