Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The Crimson Petal And The White
by Michel Faber
What to do when you can't find words to describe a book? Quote Publishers Weekly, of course. This is from the back of this 833 pages long paperback that I got from The Quality Paperback Book Club a long time ago:
"Bawdy, brilliant, crackling with insight and bravado…Faber's central characters shine with life….A marvelous story of erotic love, sin, familiar conflicts and class prejudice, a deeply entertaining masterwork that will hold readers captive until the final page." – Publishers Weekly
I love "crackling with insight and bravado." But let me start from the beginning. This book sat in my bookcase for many years and then when I decided to go through and read all the unread books and it was this book's turn, I opened it to Victorian London's world of prostitutes, filth, and poverty. And I almost didn't go any further. I am glad I did though. After a while I was totally absorbed in the book. The bawdy part doesn’t last that long. The book is about Sugar, a brilliant prostitute, who meets a much less brilliant man who has inherited a factory that makes soap. Sugar knows certain tricks of her trade that keep the man interested. She sees her opportunity and becomes his mistress, he sets her up in an apartment, and Sugar makes herself indispensable to the man, finding a way to become part of his household, helping him with his business, listening to his family problems and so on.
The man's family is a mess, but an interesting mess. Everyone in the book is very interesting, except the man. He is a real dud. This brings us to the class prejudice that is the undertone of the book. Throughout the book, Sugar helps the man while thinking she is also helping herself rise above her class. She helped his wife, his daughter, his servants, her very good ideas and her ability to write helped make his business prosper. And she thought she kept the man satisfied in all other areas as well. Suffice it to say, that none of that was of any importance in the end. Class and image was all that mattered to the man.
But Sugar gets her revenge in an unusual and shocking conclusion that made me hungry for a sequel. The Crimson Petal And The White ended without really ending. Imagine two main characters that you have become very fond of just walking away into the London fog. I was totally unprepared for this, I was mad – tell me more – what happened to them?
This is a very well written and imaginative book. Brilliant in they way it draws you into an 1870's London household and original in its approach and certainly in its conclusion.
After some initial hesitation, I came to like and enjoy this book.
On a different subjet: We had one of the worst or maybe the worst thunderstorm I have ever experienced here last night. I remember some great ones from New Jersey in my different life there, but this was something else. An LA TV station interrupted the voice coverage of the Laker game to warn of this very serious storm in the high desert. They told people to stay indoors, away from windows and so on. We sat on the couch and watched TV while the lightning kept flashing outside our livingroom window. Soldier hid in the guest bedroom, partially under the bed, poor thing. Angel kept barking and barking at the thunder. Samson looked mostly like he was wondering what the fuss was all about. He will grow up to be a very, very cool dog.
The rain has stopped and I am wondering what's left of our road. County life worries, but I think it will be OK.
Have a nice day.