• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

In this gothic Victorian tale, Waters offers a slow build to heartbreak, twists and double twists, hesitant attempts at love, and, finally, clarity and satisfying revenge.

Sue Trinder is a teenage orphan, the daughter of a hanged murderess who tries to live up to her fearless mother's bravery and strength. She's being raised in a household of cheats, thieves, and generally crooked characters. Yet she's been largely sheltered from the evils of the underbelly of Victorian London by her unofficial, doting adoptive mother, Mrs. Sucksby.


But when one of their group, Gentleman, comes up with a large-scale con, suddenly the makeshift family's potential fortune depends heavily on Sue. She's asked to play the role of maid to an unassuming, wealthy young woman in a dastardly plot to take the woman's inheritance and leave her to rot in an insane asylum.


When Sue meets Maud and begins dressing her, caring for her, and trying to manipulate her into the con, what seemed like a simple plan becomes more complicated and fraught.


Meanwhile, Maud's bristly uncle, a strict man of books who has raised his niece primarily to assist him in his research and work, is at the center of a widespread web of debauchery. Maud's unusual upbringing--an emotionally cold life, steeped in lascivious writings--has left her both innocent to the workings of the outside world and also closely acquainted with the details of intimacies with which most young ladies of the time would likely be unfamiliar.


Fingersmith is a delightfully dark, often menacing Victorian-era gothic tale. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it was such a slow build, I was both eager for it to ramp up in pacing and very hesitant about finding out where things were going. There's a descent-into-madness aspect that's made more powerful by Waters's measured, sometimes sluggish tempo. I was on the verge of becoming impatient, but Waters masterfully draws out the sinister threads of the story until they're taut and ready to snap, and ultimately I was in for it.


I wasn't certain how Waters would resolve the layers of deceit, secrets, and desires for revenge at play here. The story offers heartbreak, twists and double twists, hesitant attempts at unorthodox love (I recall one reader referring to this as "lesbian Dickens," but it wasn't quite that to me), and, finally, clarity and satisfying revenge.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Waters is also the author of Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, and The Night Watch. I'm eager to read these as well.


I wasn't as big a fan of Waters's The Paying Guests as I was of Fingersmith.