Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Crimson Petal and the White

This is one of the most extraordinary books I've ever read. Shocking and crude, it brutally reveals the ugly (even grotesque) living conditions of the less fortunate (particularly the poor and the prostitutes - being a poor prostitute seemed to be the worst combination possible), and the sharp divide between the social classes in Victorian England.

It follows Sugar, an extremely intelligent and ambitious prostitute who manages to seduce and manipulate a rich but failing businessman, William Rackham. She manages to leave the horrible brothel she's been working at, Mrs Castaway's (which was ran by her own mother by the way) and becomes Rackham's private mistress. Sugar of course thinks of Rackham as merely a tool, a path if you will, for her own welfare and possibly salvation. Needless to say, William, a classic arrogant know-it-all, is naive enough to think he's in for a treat and that Sugar's intentions are genuine (like the majority of men, I'm sorry to say). For him, Sugar is evidently an escape from his financial problems and mentally imbalanced wife (who feels terrorized by her monthly bleeding). Nevertheless, unfortunately for the two protagonists, things do not turn out as planned: William gets more than he's bargained for and Sugar has to deal with her profound sensitivity and emotionality.

Like Joanne Harris in a previous post, Faber allows each character to have its own unique voice and communicate his/her thoughts directly to the reader, making the story even more interesting and intriguing. The characters are also what literary critics would call 'round': although they are nothing more than dramatic constructs, they are far from perfect or even worse, 'flat' (something I'm not going to expand on, so I won't spoil it for you!).

Overall, a real page-turner for all of its 800+ pages, but make no mistake, this is not for the faint-hearted!

PS: I think it was also made into a TV series by the BBC, but unfortunately I haven't had the chance to watch it yet. But when I do, you can expect a review post!

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