[BOOKS] ✴ The Crimson Petal and the White ✻ Michel Faber – Jobs-in-kingston.co.uk Sugar, , prostitute in Victorian London, yearns for a better life From brutal brothel keeper Mrs Castaway, she ascends in society Affections of self involved perfume magnate William Rackham soon smell Sugar prostitute in Victorian London, yearns for a Petal and PDF/EPUB À better life From brutal brothel keeper Mrs Castaway, The Crimson PDF or she ascends in society Affections of self involved perfume magnate William Rackham soon smells like love Her Crimson Petal and Kindle Ô social rise attracts preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds. A word of warning, my friends I ll be giving this the hard sell To begin, please create in your mind s eye and ear the most interesting tour guide imaginable He knows all about Victorian England its people, its paradoxes and what s , he knows what you don t know but would find fascinating Transitions back and forth between our modern perspectives and their older,circumscribed ones are virtually seamless He s wise about people, too, their quirks and motivations, independent o A word of warning, my friends I ll be giving this the hard sell To begin, please create in your mind s eye and ear the most interesting tour guide imaginable He knows all about Victorian England its people, its paradoxes and what s , he knows what you don t know but would find fascinating Transitions back and forth between our modern perspectives and their older,circumscribed ones are virtually seamless He s wise about people, too, their quirks and motivations, independent of setting Oh, and the language every word is perfect You ll hardly notice the passing hours Right from the very beginning this omniscient fellow speaks directly to you, promises you intimate details some of which are dark and surprising, even a bit graphic , and lures you straight into 1875 You re in very deep soon enough, utterly beguiled Character driven, with the plot riding shotgunI think it s a disservice to reveal much of the plot The narrator tour guide will get to what s relevant when the time is right I will summarize the inside flap, though, which I figure is fair game William Rackham, the purposeless heir to a perfume manufacturer, meets Sugar, the clever and willing young prostitute who suddenly fills him with ambition He takes over his father s business, enjoys a quick reversal of fortune, and sees to Sugar s ascent from the squalor so that he can have her all to himself What follows is a whole lot of interplay between these characters and a well drawn host of others The primary ones are The aforementioned William self centered but not entirely vile a would be essayist and wag a man defined and even a bit constrained by his social standing and the times.The aforementioned Sugar enterprising and smart a devotee of pun alert Dale Carnalgie s How to Win Johns and Manipulate People riveting to see how her people smarts and hooker s talent for prevarication play out in chess matches of actions and reactions.Agnes William s wife who is actually somewhat deranged we as readers are clued in to the cause even though the characters are not beautiful yet na ve almost laughably shallow by modern standards as the product of a finishing school.Henry William s older brother who is in certain ways the better chap would rather have been a man of the cloth than a man of commerce as their father had originally hoped earnest as the day is long but unable to suppress those pesky animal urges.Emmeline Fox a somewhat iconoclastic widow who does social work to help prostitutes in need the object of Henry s affections one with a better applied sense of religion ill but unyielding.Sophie William s six year old daughter who begins as a near non entity but turns into a character with surprising depth much of her blossoming is due to a source I shan t divulge Interesting others, among them prostitutes whose hearts range from gold to substances not nearly so glittery, a leech toting doctor who sees to poor Agnes, and a couple of William s friends from school abominable but pretty damned funny.Victorian London, seeds and allIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times Sorry that s unoriginal But Dickens comes to mind for a reason There were still many hardships for the poor, class distinctions were endemic, and byzantine morals lay beneath thin but glossy surfaces The narrator states, no righteous man must dare to think of the flesh, and no righteous woman must be aware of having it If an exuberant barbarian from a savage fringe of the Empire were to stray into St James s Park and compliment one of these ladies on the delicious looking contours of her flesh, her response would most likely be neither delight nor disdain, but instant loss of consciousness Yet prostitution and pornography were booming Conflict is easy to come by in a setting like this It need not be manufactured or contrived Faber said, plausibly enough, that he did a huge amount of research into the times, but didn t actually use much of it He said he hates when authors try so desperately to show off their knowledge to justify their efforts in obtaining it Faber s goal instead was to paint a vivid picture without ever allowing the pace to bog down He hoped there was none of that Let s pause here for some historical stuff And there wasn t.Purple prose Pshaw While the Victorian setting makes a certain richness of prose seem natural, there was a conscious effort to mix in faster paced elements, too This was done so well that the writing, while lush, never felt overly verbose or ponderous this despite longer sentences and even occasional adverbs In an interview, Faber made fun of Stephen King s book on writing that basically said a pox upon modifiers My feeling is that King may be right for most writers, but exceptions must be made for those like Faber who are so good at choosing them you know, advisedly, unerringly Analysis sans spoilers I mentioned already that the writing is both sumptuous and fast paced, a mix of old and new It seems the same can be said for its literary classification Pomo, you might ask Well, yes and no The narrator at the very beginning makes no bones about the fact that you re reading a novel And he switches between multiple POV characters, occasionally speaking directly to us as modern day readers Some have even called this tricksy , though those same people also admit that in Faber s capable hands, it works For the most part, though, the book features older style narration Faber s answer to an interview question speaks clearly to the way he wants this to be perceived I m not impressed when authors rub their readers faces in the fact that a book is only an artificial construct, that characters are not real, that it s all an exercise in deception and intellectual conceit There s nothing new or clever about this Laurence Sterne s Tristram Shandy did it to perfection two hundred and fifty years ago For me the most interesting question is how a book so long never once bored me It wasn t just the setting or the writing, though both were appealing I suspect it hadto do with how real the characters seemed Faber said that in an earlier draft William wasvillainous, but was rewritten to becomelikeable and complex This made his bad behavior all thepoignant since it came from someone I cared to learn about Sugar was revealed in even greater detail as she vied for influence and a better life We re granted valuable access to her hopes, fears, sensibility, and schemes When I sit for a tick to think about it, it s the way the characters are revealed through dialog, the story, the inner voices, and that amazing narrator s talent for description that makes this the best book I ve read in quite a while The sense of a non endingThis book is not loved universally By far the most common complaint is the lack resolution at the end Maybe The Sopranos helped prepare me, but I kind of liked the open endedness Some have surmised that after 900 pages, Faber just ran out of steam As meticulously drawn as the storyline was up to that point, though, I suspect Faber wanted us to speculate It made the story even truer to life, where loose threads dangle all over the map Faber evidently caved in to the pressure and later wrote a book of short stories called The Apple New Crimson Petal Stories that features the same characters Whether it truly ties up loose ends, or is up to the standards of this one, I don t know But I plan to find out.Trust meRead this book If not immediately, then soon And if you don t trust my judgment, check out the review by Goodreads luminary Paul Bryant Maybe an Englishman, and one not so profligate with his stars, can convince you I ve been of the mind recently that there is something slightly worse than bad And that is almost Bad, one can deal with It s easily classifiable, and can be to paraphrase Susan Orlean in The Orchid Thief whittled down to amanageable size Almost is harder Almost teases you with what could have been, only to disappoint you with what is Almost is wasted potential Almost lingers inside you like a dust bunny under a bed in a clean room The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Fab I ve been of the mind recently that there is something slightly worse than bad And that is almost Bad, one can deal with It s easily classifiable, and can be to paraphrase Susan Orlean in The Orchid Thief whittled down to amanageable size Almost is harder Almost teases you with what could have been, only to disappoint you with what is Almost is wasted potential Almost lingers inside you like a dust bunny under a bed in a clean room The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber almost lives up to its promise.I was drawn into the novel by seductive narrative voice leading me down the streets of Victorian London It was a little bit cinematic and a little bit Dickensian, and I was immediately enthralled Crimson Petal tells the story of Sugar, a 19 year old prostitute who is renowned in London for doing everything There is no depravity too extreme, as long as she s getting paid for it Yet, that s not what makes Sugar truly interesting She s interesting, because while she was raised in prostitution, she s literate and reads voraciously She s also an aspiring novelist, hoping to better the plight of prostitutes by exposing their ills and their secret vengefulness to the world through her prose Meanwhile, on the other side of London, there resides the Rackham family, and at its head, William Rackham, heir to a perfume company.It s his meeting and subsequent infatuation with Sugar that s supposed to be the main story in the novel, but Faber packs the novel with intricate secondary characters that are muchinteresting Agnes, William s addled, very Catholic wife Henry Rackham and Emmeline Fox, William s brother and the unorthodox humanitarian he loves little Sophie Rackham, forced into observing her household rather than taking part in it and Caroline, Sugar s soulful prostitute friend.All of their stories are so captivating that it must have seemed a daunting task to do them all justiceso Faber opted not to try Instead, the lives of the supporting characters peter out with no resolution, good or bad Now, we all know that life is not a neatly packaged thing Situations don t resolve themselves perfectly, and one could argue that the point of this book is that that s how life is However, that rationale for ending things with no change or resolution hasoften than not seemed like a cop out to me I did find the resolution for Sugar which also involved Sophie very interesting, but that, too, is glossed over Sugar isspoken about than spoken through, and I found that very unfair to her.The Crimson Petal and the White has moments of brilliance, full characters, and an interesting narrative voice It s just a shame that all of these wonderful parts don t add up to asuccessful whole I wouldn t tell you not to read it.at the same time, I will say that you shouldn t expect to be completely satisfied when you ve finished I wasn t You know in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind they ve invented this brilliant device for erasing specific memories and the whole plot revolves around people who meet each other after they ve had their memories of each other already erased, so they re meet and re love and it s all poignant and kind of whoah and oops I kind of gave the plot away well, you should have seen it by now, come on, it s years old Anyway, I d love that particular invention to be true true true so that I could hustl You know in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind they ve invented this brilliant device for erasing specific memories and the whole plot revolves around people who meet each other after they ve had their memories of each other already erased, so they re meet and re love and it s all poignant and kind of whoah and oops I kind of gave the plot away well, you should have seen it by now, come on, it s years old Anyway, I d love that particular invention to be true true true so that I could hustle down to the memory doctor s office and after having ALL of my romantic entanglements DELETED from my brain, obviously that would be the very first thing to do, then I d present the doctor with a list of books to delete and The Crimson Petal and the White would be right there in that little list, and it would, of course, be just so that I could have the pure unsullied delectable pleasure of reading it for the first time again.This is such a corking good page turner like if some giant Dickens and The Quincunx and The Worm in the Bud great book about the Victorian sexual underworld and some other stuff were shoved in the blender and then written up by a guy who really knows what he s doing.Now, the ENDING of this huge novel was criticised greatly as being NOT AN ENDING at all but merely a dribbling away So please note that there is a book called THE APPLE which is short stories accounting for the rest of all the characters lives, and that s great and essential too.I envy you people who have not read this.And I d also ask for my memory of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to be deleted too, that would just be a little bit of post modern humour to share with the memory doctor Oh, and the memory of writing this review If you don t like reading about sex, don t read this book And when I say sex, I don t necessarily mean the pleasant kind of reading about sex, or the titillating kind of reading about sex I mean, there are plenty of gory details in here about the everyday lives of Victorian women and prostitutes And many of them aren t pretty.The thing that fascinates and attracts me to this book is that it could only take place in Victorian London, and yet it could only have been written in the modern era D If you don t like reading about sex, don t read this book And when I say sex, I don t necessarily mean the pleasant kind of reading about sex, or the titillating kind of reading about sex I mean, there are plenty of gory details in here about the everyday lives of Victorian women and prostitutes And many of them aren t pretty.The thing that fascinates and attracts me to this book is that it could only take place in Victorian London, and yet it could only have been written in the modern era Dickens would never have been able to describe these things in such detail things that range from contraceptive methods used by 19th century women to the vulgarities used by men looking for fun on a night out But not only would Dickens not have written these things, he wouldn t know how to write them for us 21st century readers He wouldn t know that we don t know how chamberpots work, or that we ve never watched impoverished children looting the scene of an accident Dickens would never guess that we don t understand why a woman can t walk the streets alone, or why two deeply in love and unmarried friends can t just stop freaking out about hellfire and have sex already But Michael Faber understands these things, and he manages to describe them in a way that is usually elegant, sometimes repulsive, and always fascinating.There are some problems with this modern Victorian thing For example, why must Sugar, the Prostitute Protagonist I like this phrase, it has nice alliteration, I ll have to start writing reviews of novels about whores also have a superior knowledge of literature Why do the heroines of historical fiction always have to be so damn modern in their thoughts I mean, yes, admittedly, it makes us relate to them, but it does not seem realistic I read these books because I like to know about people in the past, educated or not.For this reason, I found the character of Agnes particularly interesting She s a mess, for sure, I don t know if she s anytypical of the Victorian woman than Sugar is She s insane, suffering from brain problems, she s sexually repressed to the point where she refuses to acknowledge her own child, and she s basically a child herself I d much rather hang out with Sugar Still, Agnes is a muchunusual case to read about.Anyway, the bottom line is, I couldn t stop reading this book Sometimes I thought it was over the top and melodramatic but then I always ended up getting sucked right into the melodrama, evenfascinated than I had been from the start It s definitely worth a try.I will say, as a final note, that many people find the end disappointing I was told, by a number of people, on a number of occasions, that the end sucked Perhaps as a result of that or rather, as a result of the fact that I don t always like neat endings that I foundsatisfactory than I originally expected I don t think Faber leaves any loose ends unintentionally Watch your step Keep your wits about you you will need them This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before You may imagine, from other stories you ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether Thus does Faber begin his beguiling spell of a novel, the Crimson Petal and the White He sets the bar rat Watch your step Keep your wits about you you will need them This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before You may imagine, from other stories you ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether Thus does Faber begin his beguiling spell of a novel, the Crimson Petal and the White He sets the bar rather arrogantly high with such an introduction, intriguing the reader, drawing us in with words that manage to be both the sharp slap of a glove across the face as well as the whispered words of a mysteriously dangerous lover whose face we can never quite see.This is the late Victorian London that Faber gives us This London, this England, belongs to no one author s inspiration It is the dirty, industrial exploitative mess of Sinclair s The Jungle, it the deeply urgent, hypocritical, stridently moral mess of Thomas Hardy s desperately dark imagination, it is the woman repressed to barely breathing in the the attic of the Brontes imagination, it is a nearly unbearably complex Dickens character that 900 pages are not sufficient to describe Faber gives direct or indirect homage to all the teeming, screaming, whispering, and of course, most interestingly, involutarily silent voices of the era No one could hope to capture it all, of course, but Faber does his very best It is for this sort of novel that I wish the word awe could be reserved for.Faber gives us various guides on our journey, characters connected somehow in the teeming mass, tenously, momentarily, or perhaps intimately, showing the reader many different perspectives on the era, as characters have sometimes vastly different experiences based on one degree of birth, 10 shillings in their pocket, an address three streets better than someone else s, or the lack of a few pieces of vital, basic life information He manages to give us the deeply urgent feelings of the era, on a range of topics from progress and modernization to a deeply religious perspective on romantic love to consumerism to the deep schism between sexual and spiritual, love Different characters views on these subjects were everything from repulsive to ignorant to poignant to infuriating, covered in grime, tears, and rage And yet, I found myself deeply touched by the unlikeliest of small minded, miserable characters It was as if I saw their hands flailing in the darkness behind a door, and I kept wanting to kick that door in to take their hands and lead them out, and I couldn t do a thing about it.Faber brings out the realities of every day life that seem to never surface in novels of the era He coats his city in filth from the very first, not scrupling to show us a child covered in piss or a whore cleaning herself after a rank smelling customer has left her He speaks of decaying teeth in the mouths of beauties, carriage collison deaths in routine morning traffic, and the realities of burial in a city where catching disease from corpses was a very real risk in the streets And yet, this is not a treatise on the difficulties of early modern life alone Faber just means to point out that these things existed alongside the big ideas, dreams, and spiritual yearnings of the era Even married ladies who had no idea what sex was or where babies came from had chamber pots that smelled and needed to be emptied in the morning He is right to yank us from our polite disregard of such facts in the typical journey into this era, just as ladies of the time should have been yanked.He is not without poetry or a sparkling, sly humor in descriptions of this roiling mess, either That is one of the greatly surprising aspects of the tale Out of a dramatic vignette of hustle bustle London life, there are observations like thismorally, its an odd period, both for the observed and the observer fashion has engineered the reappearance of the body, while morality still insists upon perfect ignorance of it The bodice hugs tight to the bosom and the belly, the front of the skirt clings to the pelvis and hangs straight down, so that a slight wind is enough to reveal the presence of legs Yet no righteous man must dare to think of the flesh and no righteous woman must be aware of having it If an exuberant barbarian from a savage fringe of the Empire were to stray into St James Park now and compliment one of these ladies on the delicious looking contours of her flesh, the response would most likely be neither delight nor disdain, but an instant loss of consciousness His characters are surprising, too They often seem ridiculous, overly dramatic, silly enough to dismiss at first sight The author himself seems to feel the need to beg his audience to pay attention, to follow along specimens that we can only roll our eyes at for just a little bit longer Sugar, our main protagonist, goes through a social mobility and through many changes not at all common for a woman of the era Her slow transition and revelation as her economic and social class change, the needs and focuses of her thoughts as she changes again and again what she wants out of life It is amazing to watch her transformation from chapter to chapter, how her voice and thoughts change Our main male character, William Rackham, is introduced as a silly, self important twit with vainglorious artistic aspirations, and an aversion to any sort of responsibility Even when he takes hold of his fate, he does not really rise in quality in the slightest Some might say he even decreases Yet I came to understand him He has all the flaws of men of the era, and some not even as badly as most His struggles to cope with so much he doesn t understand, his delusions become pitiful, even painful by the end His relationship with his wife ends up being particularly powerful Poor Agnes Rackham is enough to inspire anyone, feminist or not, into a rage at what women were meant to be, and what they could not be The struggles of Emmeline Fox and Henry Rackham brought tears of rage to my eyes it goes on and on Faber gets us so involved with people that perhaps we would dismiss from an author less talented I could go on and on here about all the issues of feminism raised through the female characters, the perceptions of them through the eyes of men, the classism, relative morality, but I do believe I would run out of characters allowed in this review before I d barely begun.As to the ending spoilers, perhaps Though I don t plan to give much specific away I liked it It was abrupt and shocking, rather, but after 900 pages of this epic I somehow think it appropriate At least from a modern novelist I could almost believe that he stopped it there out of sheer fatigue with his narrative, but I don t think that s entirely it His interweaving of his storylines over and over again into the complex web that they became was far too delicately done for that to be the case We re meant to see the sort of ending that reality gives us if indeed there ever really is an ending Is there It is time to let me go, is a fittingly sensitive, yet cruel parting from a story that has embodied that contradiction.PS okay, now stop reading if you don t want to see a sort of spoiler I think they go to America, Martine If the heavy handed hints at the end were to be believed Watch your step Keep your wits about you you will need them This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before You may imagine, from other stories you ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether This opening from an omniscient narrator brings the reader directly into the story and on a journey to VictWatch your step Keep your wits about you you will need them This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before You may imagine, from other stories you ve read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether This opening from an omniscient narrator brings the reader directly into the story and on a journey to Victorian London that allows one to experience all of the secret and sordid details of the lives of its characters much like a voyeuristic peek at what goes on behind closed doors and in the hidden chambers of those complex minds What truly carries this story, in my opinion, is the strength of the characterizations as well as the superb writing What didn t work for me was the epic length of the book combined with a plot that sometimes seemed to stall or just failed to move forward at a pace I personally would have preferred Don t get me wrong, I m usually the first to say that my favorite books are those that put characters before plot I love getting into the heads of as many of the key players as possible However, perhaps in this case, I just didn t want to dally within these minds for quite so long I guess there s a limit to my curiosity about my fellow human beings Homes have walls and curtains for a reason, I suppose So Victorian London always a time period that fascinates me I would concede that Faber does a tremendous job in presenting the details of that time period, including the destitution, prostitution, religion, the marked distinction between the upper and lower classes, as well as the handling oraccurately, mishandling of mental illness This book certainly has a Dickensian feel to it butlike a bawdy version of Dickens A word of warning to thesensitive reader you may need to stomachthan your desired share of descriptions of a variety of bodily functions and fluids in this book Since characters are at the heart of this novel, I should spend some time mentioning them here First and foremost we have Sugar, a young, fallen woman who was forced into prostitution by her own mother She has used her intelligence, cunning, seductive power, and her attentiveness to the needs of others in order to survive in the cruel world to which she was born She is not just your ordinary prostitute, however She is much sought after due to her ability to converse and intuitthan just the basest desires of her customers Further, unknown to her clients, she is an aspiring writer and a social climber When she meets William Rackham, the perfume magnate, she sees an opportunity to advance herself, and Sugar is not one to pass up any possible advantage William is a self centered young man who has fallen into an inheritance of a business and a career that he never really wanted and for which he is quite ill suited I reached a point in the novel when I thought perhaps I could feel sympathetic to this wimpy little man, but then I changed my mind once again and he remains as a swinish personage William is married to Agnes, an eccentric, delusional young woman who is on the road to insanity One can feel a bit sorry for her as she suffers from a childhood without sufficient mothering, and now has to withstand the misguided efforts of a husband and physician who do not understand the unbalance of her psyche and the unhinging of her mental stability She treats her own daughter, Sophie, like a child who is virtually nonexistent in her world William all but ignores Sophie as a living and breathing entity in his household as well The first time she is given any attention and the slightest hint of affection, the poor child positively glows I believe Sophie to be perhaps the most important character in moving forward the plot of the novel, and it was with her introduction that I became fully absorbed It is not her actions that drive the story, however, but her mere existence that does so I won t sayabout this, however, as I don t want to give away any key points of said plot With a book this length, there are of course quite a few persons I could mention, but I m not going to do so However, I would be remiss not to point out my favorite character Miss Emmeline Fox She has aligned herself with William s brother, Henry Rackham, in serving the needs of the impoverished and most disgraced members of London s most disreputable neighborhoods She works for the Rescue Society and aims to bring the city s prostitutes off the streets and into suitable employment in order to attempt to end the cycle of poverty and exploitation of these women She is highly religious, but her charitable undertakings are completed without prejudice, judgment or even a whiff of self righteousness She s quite unconventional, sort of like a Victorian, badass fairy godmother I definitely liked the second half of the novel muchthan the first Having said that, a nearly 900 page tome has to grab me a bit sooner to rate it in 4 or 5 star territory I did enjoy where we ended up by book s end, although there were a couple of loose ends or questions I would have liked tied up or answeredfirmly I wanted to seeof Miss Fox before turning the last page, but alas, that wish was not to be granted either Overall, I liked reading this book, I thought the writing was exceptional, but I ve hopefully explained clearly enough the reasons for not rating this quite as highly as most of my GR friends I do have another of Michael Faber s novels stored away on my kindle for future, and I do look forward to reading that one when the time is right I m giving this book 3.5 stars, and am rounding down to a 3 which means I did like it, but didn t quite feel the love Adult historical fiction Very adult After enjoying Faber s most recent novel, The Book of Strange New Things, I decided to try this his earlier novel set in 1870s England I have to admire someone who can evoke science fiction worlds and Victorian London with equal aplomb The surety with which Faber resurrects the world of the 1870s is astounding You will feel like you are there gritty streets, coal blackened slums, high society balls and all This is basically the story of a young pr Adult historical fiction Very adult After enjoying Faber s most recent novel, The Book of Strange New Things, I decided to try this his earlier novel set in 1870s England I have to admire someone who can evoke science fiction worlds and Victorian London with equal aplomb The surety with which Faber resurrects the world of the 1870s is astounding You will feel like you are there gritty streets, coal blackened slums, high society balls and all This is basically the story of a young prostitute Sugar and how an encounter with the young heir of a perfume empire changes both their lives in unexpected ways The story is Dickensian in its scope and its deft juggling of many colorful characters, but its narrative sensibility is modern The unnamed narrator speaks directly to the reader in second person at the beginning, and at the endwell, the ending is infuriatingly open ended Something I have been accused of myself but after reflection, I ve come to appreciate why the author chose to end the story as he did It s definitely a tale that will stay with you long after you finish The Crimson Petal and the White is the 2002 novel by Michel Faber, a resplendent eight hundred fifty page saga that chronicles the rise of an exceptionally clever London prostitute known as Sugar in 1874, her fall from grace the following year and how she impacts a multitude of characters along the way That story isn t at all complex and given the political machinations that existed in high and low society of Victorian England, the secrets between powerful men and their cunning mistresses, as The Crimson Petal and the White is the 2002 novel by Michel Faber, a resplendent eight hundred fifty page saga that chronicles the rise of an exceptionally clever London prostitute known as Sugar in 1874, her fall from grace the following year and how she impacts a multitude of characters along the way That story isn t at all complex and given the political machinations that existed in high and low society of Victorian England, the secrets between powerful men and their cunning mistresses, as well as the intricate revenge schemes at times employed, the story itself proceeds in a very undramatic manner It s not what Faber tells, but how he tells it that makes the book a great one.Addressing the reader directly, as a cabman or street vendor might a potential fare or customer, the story begins on Church Lane in the neighborhood of St Giles, which Faber describes as at the very bottom, the lowest of the low A prostitute named Caroline, a widow making her way alone on the streets for five years now, is introduced having to improvise everything from birth control to meals to heat during a cold winter There are innumerable ways to die in London, but for those able to rise above begging, also opportunities, as Faber indicates as he passes us from Caroline to an old friend named Sugar she bumps into inside a stationary shop on Greek Street.Having lifted herself up from Church Lane to Silver Street described as a hop skip and jump from the widest, richest, grandest thoroughfare in London and into a tightly managed bawdy house known as Mrs Castaway s, Sugar is a poised and well dressed nineteen year old prostitute steadily in demand due to her ability to do two things Caroline cannot carry on a conversation with any man and to never have to say no to one, both with a childlike innocence that customers seem to find desirable Unknown to Caroline, Sugar is writing a novel, a sordid halfpenny tale of one prostitute s bloody revenge against the male sex Following Sugar to Regent Street, where the future of London promises to be airy, regular and clean, we re passed over to William Rackham, heir to Rackham Perfumeries William has traveled to Billington Joy with his wife s unscrupulous maid Clara on a mission to procure himself afashionable hat and his wife dress making material William is something of a ne er do well fop whose collegiate ambition to become an essayist and author has been subverted by his father, who needs a son to properly assume control of the perfume company while his aloof, first born son Henry shows no aptitude for business, choosing instead to devote himself to God.Living on an allowance from his father, William has inherited a home in Notting Hill going to pot with fewer servants and fine accoutrements such as a coachman as William dithers taking over the family empire His once elegant and witty wife Agnes has secluded herself from society and from her husband, whom she rarely even takes meals with, relapsing into spells or diatribes that the family physician Doctor Curlew suggests demands treatment in an asylum William drowns his demons with two degenerate college friends, Bodley and Atwell, who take William drinking or whoring But not even the services of a set of nubile twins delivers William from his malaise An apparent disappointment to all who observe him, William diverts himself with More Sprees in London Hints for Men about Town, with advice for greenhorns. The bachelor s guidebook of debauchery includes sections on Trotters street girls and Prime Rump which includes bottle service well out of William s price range , however, a review under Mid Loin For Moderate Spenders catches his attention Following directions, William heads to The Fireside Inn, a pub located near Silver Street where he seeks out Sugar, who the guidebook promises is especially accomplished in the Art of Conversation, and is assuredly a fit companion for any True Gentleman Faber s description of Sugar as William lays eyes on her for the first time is indicative of the novel s mesmerizing prose and the author s ability to convincingly jump into the skin of different characters At that moment The Fireside s door swings open and in walks a solitary woman A whiff of fresh air comes in with her, as well as the sound of wild weather outside, cut off in mid howl by the sealing of the door, like a cry stifled under a hand The pall of cigar smoke parts momentarily, then mingles with the smell of rain.The woman is all in black no, dark green Green darkened by the downpour Her shoulders are drenched, the fabric of her bodice clinging tight to her prominent collar bones, and her thin arms are sheathed in dappled chlorella A sprinkling of unabsorbed water still glistens on her simple bonnet and on the filmy grey veil that hangs from it Her abundant hair, not flame red just now but black and orange like neglected coal embers, is all disordered, and loose curls of it are dripping.Offering the name George W Hunt, William is immediately taken with Sugar, who can quote Shakespeare, butimportantly, knows how to listen As she allows William to talk, she makes him feel charming, fluent and intelligent again He escorts Sugar back to her homely room at Mrs Castaway s, where he not only falls asleep before any sexual transaction can occur, but drunkenly wets himself Sugar passes the night at her writing desk working on her novel From such auspicious beginnings, William becomes obsessed by Sugar, and seeks to reach terms with Mrs Castaway that will make her his exclusively To his surprise, Sugar agrees with the arrangement.In order to properly keep a woman like Sugar, William dedicates himself to Rackham Perfumeries and improves his fortunes dramatically He relocates Sugar from the brothel on Silver Street she shares with her employer and mother Mrs Castaway to an apartment outside the city in Priory Close with French doors and a bathtub Sugar grows isolated in the suburbs and begins to advise William in the world of business, helping him maintain his empire while he teaches her about the perfume industry Sugar shrewdly takes an interest in William s domestic life Agnes, whose tumorous condition remains undiagnosed by medicine, continues her spiral into madness, while William s brother Henry combats desires for Doctor Curlew s daughter Emmeline Fox, a reformer who volunteers for the Rescue Society, an organization trying to steer prostitutes away from sin and into honest work Sugar discovers at the same time the reader does that William and Agnes have a five year old daughter named Sophie, who s reached the age when she needs schooling Seeking to solidify William s total dependence on her, Sugar offers herself for the job of the lonely child s governess.Despite publishing only three novels, Michel Faber announced in 2014 that he would stop writing novels following the death of his wife and companion of twenty six years While this would be a tragedy, then at the very least, with The Crimson Petal and the White the title is from the Tennyson poem Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal, which opens, Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white the author left it all on the floor Few facets of London society in the 1870s remain unlit by Faber s glorious writing style, his natural sounding dialogue and characters struggling to exist.If this novel had been written by virtually any other other author or at any other period of time, I probably would ve abandoned it At 838 pages, the story really doesn t get started until Sugar moves in to the Rackham residence on page 497 Each time Faber transitions away from her side of the story with its exciting duplicity and vulnerability in order to dwell on the existential funk of William s depressed brother Henry or the angelic plights of Mrs Fox, who like Agnes, falls ill, with what s initially diagnosed as consumption, I considered that maybe the book didn t have to be so damn long And yet, I kept reading Opening the book up to almost any page and it s hard not toChurch Lane, back entrance of Paradise, fankyerverymuch Having delivered a well dressed lady to this repugnant quarter of the Old City, the cabman utters a snort of sarcasm his like minded horse dumps, as a parting gesture of disdain, a mound of hot turd on the cobbles Resisting the temptation to tick him off, Sugar keeps her mouth shut and pays the fare, then tiptoes towards Mrs Leek s house with the hems of her skirts lifted What a morass of filth this street is the fresh fall of horseshit is the least of its hazards Did it always stink like this, or has she been living too long in a place where nothing smells but rose bushes and Rackham toiletries The deplorable living conditions in the city s poor quarters with their brigades of beggars and puddles of piss and vomit on the cobblestones not to mention the total absence of birth control and women s suffrage are woven into the book in a skillful way Victorian London is only the background and Faber keeps his research from charging into the foreground, creeping up on occasion to tap the characters on the shoulders rather shockingly, then retreating Rather than become an info dump, the focus is on the characters always Faber uses Victorian era patois sparingly and each of his characters seem to express themselves both uniquely and honestly with intelligence, passion and wit The Crimson Petal and the White, like Faber s other novels Under the Skin and The Book of Strange New Things, subverted my expectations in the way that it refuses to barrel through conventions of any genre, in this case, the subterfuge and revenge of a thriller William Rackham, his wife Agnes or her maidservant might ve been villains in another book, creatures of plot devising ways to rule Sugar or maybe ruin her, but over 838 pages, the picture that emerges of these characters iscomplex than that There were qualities of each character I was able to identify with, which in addition to the marvelous writing, helped me surf my way through to an unforgettable ending Watch your step Keep your wits about you you will need them From that captivating opening echoed several times later on , you are a voyeur, on an extraordinarily vivid journey I was enthralled from the start, raced through the 800 pages at every opportunity, and remain in awe of the way the story is told Regularly addressing the reader in conspiratorial tones, lends an air of intimacy that suits the subject.CHARACTERSThe central character is Sugar, a young prostitute who is uncommonly i Watch your step Keep your wits about you you will need them From that captivating opening echoed several times later on , you are a voyeur, on an extraordinarily vivid journey I was enthralled from the start, raced through the 800 pages at every opportunity, and remain in awe of the way the story is told Regularly addressing the reader in conspiratorial tones, lends an air of intimacy that suits the subject.CHARACTERSThe central character is Sugar, a young prostitute who is uncommonly intelligent and well read, but not conventionally attractive she has psoriasis and doesn t really hide it , though she will famously do anything During the dramatic turns of the story, we learn much about her, and yet she remains something of an enigma once out of the brothel and engaged as a somewhat unconventional governess, her motives are often unclear, creating a growing sense of doubt that echoes those that others have about her.However, in many ways, six year old Sophie is at least as important, partly because her existence is barely acknowledged for much of the time She is a very sorry figure with the air of a domestic pet bought for a child who has since died and the defeated look of an impounded animal A tatty rag doll is one of her few toys, and Sophie handles him tenderly, with a hint of sadness, as if conceding he s ever so slightly less alive than she d like to think he is Nevertheless, Sophie s vulnerability and trust has a powerful effect, Sugar feels something she would never have guessed she could feel the thrill of flesh against unfamiliar flesh, She who has been fingered by a thousand strangers Ultimately, this is the key relationship in the book I think the only weakness is, later on, when Sophie s thoughts are implausibly adult and perceptive for one so inexperienced in life and with people.The main male character is William Rackham, who runs a perfumery and soap business This is in sharp contrast to the dirtier aspects of the book literal and metaphorical , though the analogy is never laboured More powerful is Sugar s hatred of cut flowers, The flowers she can tolerate die firmly on their stems, in one piece to the last.RELIGIONBeing set in the 1870s, religion is relevant theme, along with how and if to help the poor and fallen Drama and humour comes from three very different Christian characters Agnes is a superstitious Roman Catholic, dabbling in other supernatural areas Henry is traditional, idealistic, upstanding and uptight C of E, and Mrs Fox is pragmatic and radical putting needs before doctrine, a dissenter within a wider certainty , and not afraid to give her opinion e.g not believing the virgin birth Mrs Fox and Henry try, in very different ways, to help the destitute, but Sugar s intentions to do likewise come to naught When Sugar was poor, she always fancied that if she ever became rich, she d help all the poor women in her profession, or at least all those she knew personally , but she doesn t, not even through her writing The stench of charity is as real as the horse shit on her shoes When visiting an old friend, she is uncomfortably aware that Nothing I say comes from my heart and she is ashamed this time of feeling ashamed She feels powerless to help.THE DESIRE TO WRITEAn ultimately futile passion for writing is a key experience for many of the characters William, Agnes, Sugar, Bodley and Ashwell, even perhaps, Sophie Sugar s motives are strong and honourable, thinking of prostitutes, she ponders, I am their voice Who understands and caresNone of the writers change anything, yet somehow, the book is excitingthan depressing though there is plenty of cause for misery DICKENSIAN Describing this as dirty Dickens sounds pejorative, but I think it encapsulates it rather well There are many echoes of Dickens in some of the names, the milieu and the exposition of social ills and something about Mrs Castaway s obsessive scrapbooking reminds me of Madame Defarge you could link to Jane Eyre mad wife and husband in claiming to be love with the governess, though it s not certain whether he really is , though that istenuous.ABRUPT ENDINGThe last quarter of the book is a little flabby, but it s not bad, and what has gone before is so strong, that I forgive it that.It ends abruptly, leaving the reader with many questions If Agnes had stayed in her room, could William and Sugar have been happy Is Sugar s concern for Agnes genuine, and if so, is she right to help her in the way she does Can Sugar s final action be justified Is William really that monstrous Why doesn t Sugar doto help those less fortunate and is she wrong not to do so Does the bond between Sophie and Sugar convince, and is it strong enough Don t be tempted to read The Apple for answers there will be a few, but they re most unsatisfying The original incompleteness works better On the other hand, a completely separate collection of short stories, Some Rain Must Fall , shows this novel isn t a one off in terms of his writing.QUOTATIONSRandom quotes She slipped out of the room, like a pretty moth emerging from a husk of dried slime The stagnant contraceptive bouillon the germs of another man s offspring Even shops can be sexualised having unlocked the chastity of shutters and doors, they can t see the point of maintaining any shred of modesty It was they husband and son who used to make her life a story Nowadays her life islike a newspaper aimless, up to date, full of meaningless events Shops have expanded in celebration of the crinoline s demise The modern woman has been streamlined to permit her to spend freely Superstitious atheist christian believes in a God who, while he may no longer be responsible for the sun rising, the saving of the Queen or the provision of daily bread, is still the prime suspect when anything goes wrong A breakfast laden with awkward silence, small morsels of time are consumed, with an indigestible eternity remaining Letty greets them so avidly, as if a fresh coat of obsequiousness has just been applied to her The sepulchral stillness of suburbia That peculiar mixture of feline resentment and canine respect when workers see a lady She s so weary of stealth she wishes only to be a member of the family cosily welcome, forever I was totally captivated by this novel about class differences and sexual s of late Victorian London its rich and lively writing, its cast of engaging characters, and a plot that wavers among entertaining romp, serious social commentary, and tragedy A key device is an omniscient narrator who speaks directly to the modern reader,in the beginning but also at turning points in the long story Rather than pulling you out of participation in the story, the approach works well to stoke com I was totally captivated by this novel about class differences and sexual s of late Victorian London its rich and lively writing, its cast of engaging characters, and a plot that wavers among entertaining romp, serious social commentary, and tragedy A key device is an omniscient narrator who speaks directly to the modern reader,in the beginning but also at turning points in the long story Rather than pulling you out of participation in the story, the approach works well to stoke compassion for the characters and interest in what they will do next.William Rackham is a spoiled scion of a perfume magnate who fancies himself a classics scholar and essayist Since his older brother Henry has ambitions with the church, his father tasks him with taking over the family business and uses constrictions on his allowance to motivate him He is finding it harder to maintain his aristocratic household with servants and expenses incurred by his na ve and dotty trophy wife, Agnes Here is how our narrator intrudes to adroitly draw you in iBut let me rescue you from drowning in William Rackham s stream of consciousness, that stagnant pond feebly agitated by self pity Money is what it boils down to how much of it, not enough of it, when will it come next, where does it go, how it can be conserved, and so on So there you have it the thoughts somewhat pruned of repetition of William Rackham as he sits on his bench in St James s Park If you are bored beyond endurance I can offer only my promise that there will be f king in the very near future, not to mention madness abduction and violent death.William s outlet in escapades of drinking and whoring on the town with his feckless college pals is wearing thin Following their published tour guide of brothels he finds his way to the arms of Sugar, whose ability to both please him in bed and discuss literature and politics soon has him madly in love with her He sets her up in a private pad, and she soon makes it economically feasible by helping him master the people management key to his growing success with the perfume industry.Our sympathies for William progressively get degraded Sugar is our true hero She is using himthan he does her Her outlet lies with the writing of a pornographic Gothic thriller about a prostitute who takes violent revenge on exploitive men everyone seems to be a writer in this tale She comes to empathize with the fate of Agnes, who is suffering from a mysterious illness that affects her grip on reality From access to her diaries she learns that the wife is so twisted up she assumes her monthly periods are part of her illness and that she mentally denies that she has a daughter The neglected daughter Sophie figures largely in the plot in the latter half of the book Just deserts are satisfactorily achieved in the reversal of fortunes by the end of this amazing saga.Throughout the book you are constantly tuned into the exploitation of the poor by the rich and by the seedy underbelly of a society so prideful of its high civilization Ever prurient hook of sexuality is undermined by the muck of sordidness and bodily secretions You mind has to get some calluses to overcome the disgust factor In the end, the modern narrator begins to indict you the reader with dirt is in the mind of the beholder This bothered me with its excess As an ending example, note that this is the narrator slipping in a shocking angle into a chatty and ironic discourse about Agnes You wonder if you have seen her somewhere before indeed you have She is a high Victorian ideal perfection itself at the time William married her ever so slightly quaint now that the Seventies are half way over She is a paragon of porcelain femininity, five foot two with eyes of blue, her blond hair smooth and fine, her mouth like a tiny pink vulva pristine.
- 835 pages
- The Crimson Petal and the White
- Michel Faber
- 15 November 2018 Michel Faber