Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is a book I plucked from my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. I had never heard of it before and had to special request it from our library system. I have a lot to say about this book but first I want to start with a problem, or maybe more of an annoyance I have had while reading lately.I find that I have no trouble telling where the plot is going, telling where the twists are going to be and which minor characters are going to come in at a critical moment and revel something shocking. There are just a few books out there that have generally causes me to exclaim "What the hell?"
Fingersmith had me exclaiming this over and over again. I was so shocked and amazed by how complicated and beautifully crafted this story was and could not read it fast enough. Geoff would come home from class and I would be reading and chewing my lips telling him I was freaking out because of this book. It was wonderful.
The novel starts in the heart of the shady part of London, with a girl named Susan Trinder. She is raised in a family much like Oliver Twist, loved by the woman of the house like a daughter even though Sue's mother was hanged as a murderess. Sue is happy with her life and one day a friend of the house, Gentleman, comes by with the scheme of a lifetime, and it all hinges on Sue. He has a post helping a real gentleman in the country work on his library and this man has a niece, Maud, who needs a maid. Maud is set to inherit a ton of money, but only if she marries. If Sue can help persuade Maud to marry Gentleman, the plan is to then put Maud in a madhouse and make off with her money. So Sue goes to the country house Briar to be maid to a fine lady.
"The skin of her hands was smooth - but, like the rest of her, to smooth to be right, I never saw it without thinking of the things - rough things, sharp things - that would mark or hurt it."
Maud and Sue quickly become close, though Sue always tries to keep in mind that she is plotting against this woman. Because of Maud's night terrors, they sleep in the same bed and soon Sue realizes that she has strong feelings for Maud.
"But by then I could only see that there was once a time when we had walked about, and then a time when we walked together."
After agreeing to marry Gentleman, Maud and Sue share a very intimate night together and Sue is just seething with jealousy. But the wedding goes through and off they go to the mad house. And then shit gets crazy.The second part is told through Maud's eyes and we get her perspective from the start and onward. In the third part we return to Sue and her determined quest for vengeance.
I don't want to spoil the rest of the book but I will just say that it does an amazing job of parallelling the lives of Sue and Maud. Both end up trapped in situations they are desperate to escape and both expect the blood of their mother's to show up in themselves. Sue's mother was a murderess so she is always sure that her bad blood will see her through her misdeeds. Maud's mother died in a mental institution, and she grew up in one and is desperate not to go back.
I imagine that the reason I have never heard of this book before is because of the lesbian aspect of it, but truthfully it is a beautifully done story about two women who love each other despite their own intentions. Because of the time, neither could come out and say how they felt at the start for fear and my heart ached when they had moments where if only one of them would have reached out perhaps they would not have had to go through the pain they end up going through.
"But I thought desire smaller, neater; I supposed it bound to its own organs as taste is bound to the mouth, vision to the eye. This feeling haunts and inhabits me, like a sickness. It covers me, like skin."
After finally finishing (I literally could not put this book down and read it in two days), I have to say that this is one of my new favorites. Top ten, even. The characters were realistic and complex, the plot was so amazing and the pain and longing seemed to seep right off the page and into my heart.