"distinctly queer and contemporary, as if retrofitting a classic car"
September 20, 2014 11:02 AM   Subscribe

"Longings and Desires", a Slate.com book review by Amanda Katz:
[Sarah] Waters, who was born in Wales in 1966, has carved out an unusual spot in fiction. Her six novels, beginning with Tipping the Velvet in 1998, could be called historical fiction, but that doesn’t begin to capture their appeal. It is closer to say that she is creating pitch-perfect popular fiction of an earlier time, but swapping out its original moral engine for a sensibility that is distinctly queer and contemporary, as if retrofitting a classic car.

Her books offer something like an alternate reality—a literary one, if not a historical one. There may have been lesbian male impersonators working the London music halls in the 1890s, as in Tipping the Velvet, but there were certainly not mainstream novels devoted to their inner lives and sexual exploits. Waters gives such characters their say in books that imitate earlier crowd-pleasers in their structure, slang, and atmosphere, but that are powered by queer longing, defiant identity politics, and lusty, occasionally downright kinky sex. (An exception is her last novel, The Little Stranger.) The most masterful of these books so far is Fingersmith, a Wilkie Collins-esque tale full of genuinely shocking twists (thieves, double-crossing, asylums, mistaken identity, just go read it). The saddest is The Night Watch, a tale told in reverse of a group of entwined characters during and after World War II. But among many readers she is still most beloved for Tipping the Velvet, a deliriously paced coming-of-age story that is impossible to read in public without blushing.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (29 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

Read Fingersmith.

That is all.
posted by Fizz at 11:26 AM on September 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

What Fizz said.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:42 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also: Read Fingersmith without having first read anything about Fingersmith.
posted by mochapickle at 11:49 AM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Read Fingersmith without having first read anything about Fingersmith.

Yes, not reading the jacket/blurb will take away any potential spoilers and leave only pleasant surprises/shocks/turns/revelations.
posted by Fizz at 11:52 AM on September 20, 2014

Tipping the Velvet is pretty dang awesome...I'll check out fingersmith.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2014

(BTW, the tags on this post are incredible)
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:54 AM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

(BTW, the tags on this post are incredible)

Sadly, clicking on "kinkysex" does not bring up anything else on metafilter. Disappointing.
posted by Fizz at 11:56 AM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm about halfway through The Paying Guests - it's good, maybe not Fingersmith good, but better than The Night Watch. One of the things that I love about Sarah Waters is that she doesn't feel like she needs to show off all of her research, which is something that has kept me from enjoying other historical novels. Also, I kind of love that most of her characters are kind of awful, yet sympathetic.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:58 AM on September 20, 2014

And forgive me for not commenting on the linked articles -- I just picked up The Paying Guests last night and I'm about to settle in tonight to read it.

I've loved them all, even The Little Stranger, which I think was polarizing to several of her readers. I'm still only halfway through The Night Watch, which didn't grab me the way the others did even though the writing itself is lovely.

I keep wanting her to go further back and do a sort of Regency thing.
posted by mochapickle at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fingersmith is fantastic. And yes, without spoilers if possible.

For whatever reason, Tipping the Velvet is the only book of hers I couldn't get through.
posted by OolooKitty at 12:19 PM on September 20, 2014

I concur, read Fingersmith. Got to the end of the first section, blew through the rest in a day just to find out what happened next.

Fingersmith movie's not bad either.
posted by Diablevert at 12:49 PM on September 20, 2014

Ooh ooh ooh a new Sarah Waters book! Hooray!

Fingersmith is excellent, but also check out Affinity if you haven't read it. Waters is an amazing, masterful, brilliant storyteller.
posted by goo at 2:06 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've read and loved all of her books and am now two chapters into The Paying Guests. It reads like a Waters' novel, but so far it seems like something's missing. It appears too straight forward. Of course, The Night Watch was also straightforward, so maybe this is in the same vein?

(I haven't read any blurbs, so I am going into this knowing nothing about the plot.)
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:26 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

(I'm also not rtfa to avoid spoilers.)
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:27 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have not read Fingersmith, but I was really engaged by the 2-part BBC adaption (at my mother's, of all places (actually, it makes perfect sense, knowing my mother)). Has anybody who has read the novel seen the adaption, and does it remotely compare?
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:52 PM on September 20, 2014

I have read and seen both versions. I thought the movie was well done, but the book was more... surprising to me? I'd read the book first. Worth reading, even if you've seen the adaptation.

(Oh, hey! The adaptation's on YouTube... There goes my afternoon.)
posted by mochapickle at 3:01 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

The first I heard of Sarah Waters was through Tripping the Velvet, then I happened upon a television adaptation. Roller derby, is there anything you can't do?
posted by asok at 3:16 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd vaguely heard of her books but haven't read any; these reviews have put them on the top of my to-read list. Thanks!

Aside from what sound like generally amazing books, theres a suggestion in the Times review of part of their popularity: Waters’s sex scenes are meticulously detailed, a practice that seems, regrettably, to have gone slightly by the wayside in literary fiction. The erotic passages in this novel offer an argument for reviving the art.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:55 PM on September 20, 2014

I was recommended Fingersmith when I asked for more books like Gone Girl and was not disappointed. And I also may be spending my evening checking out the adaptation on YouTube.
posted by yellowbinder at 4:14 PM on September 20, 2014

Oooh, I love Sarah Waters. Highly recommend Fingersmith. I rather liked The Little Stranger and The Night Watch.
posted by Kitteh at 5:20 PM on September 20, 2014

Hmm, The Night Watch really put me off Waters, despite having loved Tipping the Velvet and been sucked into Fingersmith. Never finished it and weeded it happily next time I moved. I think my favourite of hers is actually Affinity, which I think was actually much better than Fingersmith. Probably best not to read too much about it though, if you haven't already. May have to test and see if the new one's a return to form.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:06 PM on September 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

When I saw the BBC miniseries of Tipping the Velvet, I was amazed to find out that the source material wasn't nineteenth-century, the voice was so authentically period.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:04 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I, too, think you should read Fingersmith! Also, don't forget Affinity, which I think is almost in the same league. That said, I didn't care for Tipping the Velvet and I thought the Little Stranger was fine, but no Fingersmith or Affinity.

I didn't read The Night Watch because when I looked up reviews at the time, they weren't great. As a person who likes Fingersmith and Affinity, is indifferent towards The Little Stranger, and didn't like Tipping the Velvet, should I read The Night Watch? I will probably read the new book.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:22 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, I read Fingersmith and Affinity before I knew anything about Sarah Waters and was impressed enough that I looked her up after reading those. I remember thinking "Oh yes, duh!" when she was described as writing lesbian novels. Though both the novels I had read were filled with lesbian eroticism (there's a scene in Affinity where one character is standing with the tip of her show under another's ankle-length dress, and somehow that scene is absolutely electric), I somehow missed that this was a theme running through her work. It didn't fell at all like the point.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:26 PM on September 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Interesting that the first part of Fingersmith on YouTube has 200k-odd views and the second part has 6.7 million. The dates match so it's not like the first one was pulled and reuploaded. I've only watched the first part so far, only thing I can think is that the sexy action must be much hotter in part 2.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:22 PM on September 20, 2014

I'm here to let you all know that there's a new film adaptation of Fingersmith being planned, except that:

...it's going to be set in 20th century Korea under Japanese rule...

...and the movie will be directed by Park Chan-wook...

...the same filmmaker who directed Oldboy...

That is all.

posted by adso at 10:34 PM on September 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh god I love Sarah Waters so much. But I like her later novels better than her picaresque earlier work (Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet) - even though those were generally better received. The Little Stranger was great - she avoids using the usual Waters sexy leitmotifs and ends up with a strange, sad, spooky little masterpiece. And The Night Watch was just heartbreaking.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:48 AM on September 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ok, now having finished The Paying Guests... I would describe it as being an 'average' of her novels. It's more subtle than Fingersmith, but not as sullen as The Night Watch. A happy median.

I got the sense that in this one she was purposefully thwarting expectations. It would veer into Fingersmith territory then defiantly say, "NO, this is not Fingersmith." Then it would veer into Tipping the Velvet territory and then defiantly say, "NO, this is not Tipping the Velvet." In that sense, I found it a bit frustrating, especially the ending. Sometimes you just want something to fit your expectations.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:48 AM on September 23, 2014

tofu_crouton, I found the ending so frustrating that it almost ruined what had been really working for me (falling in love over Tolstoy and picnics, pretty dresses, angsty angst).

[vague spoilers]

It was setting up Frances and Lilian to make a choice, a moral test and a test of their love, and that wasn't resolved. I don't know if it was meant to be frustrating, or if it was the only way she could get to the ending she wanted.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:35 AM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

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