Thursday, December 10, 2015

Throwback Thursday: The Crimson Petal and the White

In which I share vague recollections about books I read long ago that have stuck with me.

Eons ago I read Michel Faber's book, The Crimson Petal and the White, which was super popular at the time and which I really, really loved. It's funny to read about it now, because there's so much negativity towards it that when I read about it in preparation for this post I began to doubt myself. I thought "Is it just me? Had I just not read very many books at the time and was confused about what a good book is?" But then I looked at reviews by my Goodreads friends and felt reassured, because both Lubkowski sisters rated it highly and they are not wanton with their praise. This is why I love Goodreads - reviews from literary critics can't compare with the opinions of the totally non-famous people in my social circle.

The Crimson Petal and the White follows a Victorian-era prostitute named Sugar as she tries to break free of prostitution, becoming involved with a wealthy businessman who has a mentally ill wife. A full cast of well-developed characters with complicated lives made this story rich and immersive with, as I remember, some interesting themes about the treatment of women of various classes during this era.

Since then, several other books have satisfied me in a similar way, so if you've also enjoyed The Crimson Petal and the White, these might be appealing to you. The one that first comes to mind is Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue, which is also about a prostitute trying to escape that life. The writing is maybe not as lush, but it's still a detailed and compelling reading experience that I didn't want to end (and what an ending!) And I would be remiss not to mention Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, which was almost Dickensian in its complexity and details of the period. Lesser-know is Kate Manning's My Notorious Life, a morally complex novel about an early provider of birth control and abortion. And if you like these kinds of novels, you might also like classic sensation novels like The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

What I would not recommend for read-alikes are Michel Faber's other books, at least the ones I've read (Under the Skin and Vanilla Bright Like Eminem) I'd recommend them in general, especially Under the Skin, but they are very different books from The Crimson Petal and the White.

Have you read this book? Do you think my readalike suggestions are good ones, or do you have some better recommendations? Please share your thoughts!

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