Posted on | November 1, 2010 | 11 Comments
Yay! I’ve finished all of Sarah Waters’ novels. That’s the first thought that crossed my mind after I finished this book, and it was immediately followed by a pang of disappointment, for now I have to wait for her next book to be released, before I can lose myself in one of the wonderful worlds she masterfully creates.
Tipping The Velvet is Sarah Waters’ debut novel, and it’s quite impressive. Set in Victorian England, this is a coming-of-age story written in first person, where the narrator is Nancy Astley, or simply, Nan.
Nancy is a small-town girl, who helps out in her family’s business to do with the famous Whitstable oysters. She’s naive, innocent and loves the theatre, and so, she often attends shows at a nearby music hall, where she is smitten by the ‘masher’ (a girl dressed as a man) – Kitty Butler. The two soon meet, and a warm friendship strikes. So, when Kitty finds an agent and moves to the capital, Nancy goes with her as her dresser. However, soon enough, she swaps her skirts and dresses for the trousers, and joins Kitty’s act on stage – as a masher as well. Soon enough, Kitty’s and Nan’s act are popular and the two are raking in the money. The two girls are attracted to each other, and so, we are introduced to the first of many lesbian relationships in this book.
However, there’s a twist and a turn, and Nancy’s life in London changes drastically, as she moves from lifestyle to lifestyle, partner to partner, in search of something. We discover the darker smuttier side of Victorian London, and while I don’t want to give too much away, I have to admit, it was a hell of a ride. Cross-dressers, rent-boys and lesbians made appearances, and through them, we discovered how prominent lesbianism was, some two hundred years ago with both – the rich and poor. And, we also discover how people considered it to be taboo, much as it still is in some parts of the world today. And, as we all know, homophobia is rampant!
That said, some parts of the book made me look away. Okay, I know that doesn’t make sense, but let me try and explain: I tend to look away from the screen during an overtly steamy scene, just because… well, I don’t know… I don’t know where to look? Some of the sex scenes in this book are extremely descriptive and long, and I just didn’t know where to look, and it’s much harder to look away while reading… Am I being weird? Is this out of the ordinary?
The story is interesting – who doesn’t like reading about the dark underbelly of the Victorian age? And the writing is incredible – but that’s something I’ve come to expect from Sarah Waters anyway. It’s an ambitious debut novel – it covers a lot, and is racy and gripping – and she pulls it off in an inconceivable fashion.
However, it is with a vague sense of deja vu that I admit that I didn’t think this book was a patch on Fingersmith either. Something to this effect almost seems obligatory, as I post my thoughts on Waters’ books. I think I might have to re-read Fingersmith, just to see if I’ve imagined how good it was, or if I’m holding her other books to unrealistically high standards.
What’s your favourite book by Sarah Waters? I guess Fingersmith’s mine, with The Night Watch being the least favourite.
Do you have any other recommendations for books set in Victorian times? The more I read, the more drawn in I am.