So everyone on the internet has read Fingersmith so when I saw it sitting innocently on the shelves of the library, the name kicked out a memory that I had read lots of really good things about it. So I grabbed it and it sat in a corner of my living room for a couple of weeks and I renewed it online before I finally picked it up yesterday and tackled it. Make no mistake, Fingersmith is quite a brick. 548 pages.
But they are such an easily read 548 pages! It is a story set in London, in the 1860’s, of Sue Trinder, an orphan whose mother was hanged for being a ‘murderess’ and brought up by Mrs Sucksby, a London woman who “farms orphans”. She takes in babies of women who don’t want them, can’t keep them or who have died and raises them until she can find new homes for them – people wanting servants, or maybe simply wanting to adopt their own child. She keeps Sue though, and raises her until she is 17 when Gentleman, who is basically some random guy (rather ironically named) who comes and stays with Mrs Sucksby sometimes for reasons which are not wholly understood by me, comes to Sue with a plan! There is a woman living secluded away with her mad uncle, who is due to inherit a fortune when she marries, of fifteen thousand pounds. I gather that in those days, fifteen thousand pounds is like maybe five hundred thousand pounds these days, by the way everyone talks of it like they will be able to live richly and idly for the rest of their lives. Gentleman means to send Sue to be this lady’s maid and encourage her to marry him, and then after they are married, he will lock the lady away in a mental institution (women having none too many of the rights back in those days and surrendering their keep to their husbands). For her part in the scam, Sue (and therefore, Mrs Sucksby) will get three thousand pounds. Sue is reluctant but Mrs Sucksby is encouraging and Sue is loyal and devoted to Mrs Sucksby, believing her to be the mother that she never really had.
So she learns the bare bones of being a maid and goes to work for Maud Lily, a seemingly quiet and unassuming girl of seventeen. Maud lives with merely her uncle, who uses her for his own purposes, making her read aloud to him passages from all his novels (which are all pornographic) and to write out his work, an Index. She and Sue end up developing a sort of rapport even though Maud has no idea that Sue is there simply to push her into marrying Gentleman who is also lurking around the place doing some work for Maud’s uncle and doing his best to woo Maud. Sue begins to have cold feet about the plan but she can hardly back out now, especially when Mrs Sucksby is counting on her and they stand to gain so much.
And there I’ll stop talking about what happens in the book because it executes such a mental slap on you that my brain is still spinning! I’m glad I went into it blind because the impact of it was so great! Some stuff happens that is really devious and head-messing-with and frustrating and infuriating. And also, awesome. Actually the next portion of the book infuriated me a lot because the villains were really villain-y and evil and the amount of manipulating they do to someone who really is quite helpless is incredible. I was sitting in my chair, reading and getting more and more mad by the minute with the book and I consider that a well written book. If people who are supposed to be underhand can make you that mad – the writing is being done properly. I often wanted to throw the book across the room but that was just because I was so frustrated for some of the characters and I really wanted them to triumph over the predicaments they were in.
This isn’t really much of a review because I’d rather just say go. Go, read Fingersmith and go read it without barely knowing anything about it and enjoy it. Because it’s a really, really entertaining and tightly written novel. I got through the book in 2 days, reading on and off over the weekend and I never felt like it was dragging and for a novel of that size, that’s one heck of a selling point.
Book #79 of my 100 Book Challenge