I mentioned this here before.

This is a very long historical novel about a Victorian prostitute, Sugar, whose brilliance and ambition is spent making her customers very, very happy, and on writing a semi-autobiographical wish-fulfillment novel in which a prostitute named Sugar inventively murders all her customers; William Rackham, who is pretty much a loser until he falls for Sugar, and she repays him and uses him by letting her smarts and his money transform him into a perfume magnate; Agnes, Rackham's mad and religiously obsessed wife, who hallucinates nightly about being cared for at the Convent of Healing; Sophie, their young daughter, who seems to take more after Sugar that she does after either of her parents, at least in the brains department; Henry, Rackham's sweet, socially awkward, devout brother, who is guiltily in love with; Emmeline Fox, an independent-minded and socially progressive widow who works with an organization that tries to get women out of prostitution, but is hampered by its inability to offer them opportunities that are actually better.

I feel so torn about whether or not I should recommend this book. About four-fifths of it was brilliant and entertaining and incredibly well-written and well-characterized, and I would recommend that part unless you have a very low tolerance for excessive scatology and tragic irony.

Aaaaand then there's the last part, which was still well-written but in which the plot takes some strange turns when characters do things that don't make a whole lot of sense, and then, just as events seem to be building toward a climax, the whole thing just stops.

I like open-ended conclusions of the sort where you have enough knowledge of the characters to make a reasoned choice between which of several outcomes might happen, or the sort that conclude with the sense that while this story is over, the lives of the characters will continue and there will be other stories that will remain unwritten. But this is not that sort of ending. It's just a stop, with nothing concluded, at least one very important mystery left unsolved, and with the reader not in possession of enough information to determine what had happened, or what might happen next.

This is doubly frustrating because the entire conceit of the book is that the narrator tells us things that the characters cannot know. This is one of the book's best and most powerful devices, such as the moment when the narrator tells us that the mad wife, Agnes, has a brain tumor-- something none of the characters could possibly know at that stage of medical science, nor do anything about if they did know. So with that device in place, and so important in the rest of the book, it makes no sense for the readers to be suddenly deprived of information about what had happened right before the ending, and then deprived of an ending as well.

Massive spoilers regarding specifics of the last fifth )
I mentioned this here before.

This is a very long historical novel about a Victorian prostitute, Sugar, whose brilliance and ambition is spent making her customers very, very happy, and on writing a semi-autobiographical wish-fulfillment novel in which a prostitute named Sugar inventively murders all her customers; William Rackham, who is pretty much a loser until he falls for Sugar, and she repays him and uses him by letting her smarts and his money transform him into a perfume magnate; Agnes, Rackham's mad and religiously obsessed wife, who hallucinates nightly about being cared for at the Convent of Healing; Sophie, their young daughter, who seems to take more after Sugar that she does after either of her parents, at least in the brains department; Henry, Rackham's sweet, socially awkward, devout brother, who is guiltily in love with; Emmeline Fox, an independent-minded and socially progressive widow who works with an organization that tries to get women out of prostitution, but is hampered by its inability to offer them opportunities that are actually better.

I feel so torn about whether or not I should recommend this book. About four-fifths of it was brilliant and entertaining and incredibly well-written and well-characterized, and I would recommend that part unless you have a very low tolerance for excessive scatology and tragic irony.

Aaaaand then there's the last part, which was still well-written but in which the plot takes some strange turns when characters do things that don't make a whole lot of sense, and then, just as events seem to be building toward a climax, the whole thing just stops.

I like open-ended conclusions of the sort where you have enough knowledge of the characters to make a reasoned choice between which of several outcomes might happen, or the sort that conclude with the sense that while this story is over, the lives of the characters will continue and there will be other stories that will remain unwritten. But this is not that sort of ending. It's just a stop, with nothing concluded, at least one very important mystery left unsolved, and with the reader not in possession of enough information to determine what had happened, or what might happen next.

This is doubly frustrating because the entire conceit of the book is that the narrator tells us things that the characters cannot know. This is one of the book's best and most powerful devices, such as the moment when the narrator tells us that the mad wife, Agnes, has a brain tumor-- something none of the characters could possibly know at that stage of medical science, nor do anything about if they did know. So with that device in place, and so important in the rest of the book, it makes no sense for the readers to be suddenly deprived of information about what had happened right before the ending, and then deprived of an ending as well.

Massive spoilers regarding specifics of the last fifth )
rachelmanija: (Books turn brain)
( Feb. 19th, 2006 02:45 pm)
I went to the indoor gym today, but was regrettably out of shape after not exercising for a week and a half, and spending the half in bed. There were several routes I think I could have done, but ran out of strength part of the way up. I think I expended all my energy on karate yesterday, where I was also out of shape and uninspired.

Yesterday I started Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, in the hope that it would satisfy my desire to read a book about Victorian prostitutes that is, even if dark, in some sense enjoyable and fun rather than depressing. I had thought of taking it to Europe. But after reading the first few pages to see if I liked it enough to lug around such an enormous tome, I see that I will not be taking it anywhere. It has one of the most assured openings I've ever read, and I am now a hundred pages in and bedazzled. The paragraph beginning "And yet you did not choose me blindly" is dead-on, in every particular, about how I chose the book and how I felt as I read the first page.

The first page of The Crimson Petal and the White )
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