The Crimson Petal and the White … a review

I couldn’t remember reading a tome of a book since I read Lord of the Rings six years ago. I had quite forgotten how satisfying it is, and I such a different way, to be lost amongst characters and places and plots for days together! This Michael Faber book  is quite the tome, with 900 pages of narrative about a prostitute Sugar, her life in Victorian London, and her rise in station with the help of her lover and benefactor William Rackham. This book was recommended to me in passing, by M, and I picked it up thinking that I has a few weeks with minimal travel, so it’s good to be reading something heavy (physically).

The book is well-written. The narrative follows a pattern that I’ve never read before, with the author leading the reader on behind characters. The effect is remarkably potent, it gave me a feeling of winding through narrow backalleys of London, into damp and cold quarters of the fallen women. While the author shrugs off this style soon enough, it is still a brilliant way to introduce the prime characters of the novel. The books also contains romantic elements – the faithlessness of a marriage, the intermingling of the upper and lower classes, adultery, the deification of the beloved, and the ironical faithfulness towards the other woman.

Rackham, a perfume company tycoon is surrounded by three women. Agnes, his frail wife, suffers from hallucinations and delusions and is frequently unable to discharge her duties as wife and mistress of the house. Sophie, their infant daughter, who grows up to the age of seven in the novel, without the love of her mother or the affection of her father. Sugar, his mistress, who brings some form of relief to the other two women. The ending of the book is rather controversial, as it does not leave the reader with a clear idea of the events that ensue. It is open to interpretation, but the way I saw it, it seemed clear enough to me what happened. And I rested my tired eyes with a comforting and happy ending for the woman who had my sympathy and support. Worth a read!

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