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(Audio)Book Review | Fingersmith


Book summary: Sue Trinder, an orphan raised in 'a Fagin-like den of thieves' by her adoptive mother, Mrs Sucksby, is sent to help Richard 'Gentleman' Rivers seduce a wealthy heiress. Posing as a maid, Sue is to gain the trust of the lady, Maud Lilly, and eventually persuade her to elope with Gentleman. Once they are married, Gentleman plans to commit Maud to a madhouse and claim her fortune for himself. (Wikipedia)

First off, an apology for the gratuitously glamorous main image, but it's impossible to find a decent picture of the cover of this book. Don't even start me on googling 'women kissing' and the kinds of pictures that show up then - this was effectively the best it was going to be without resorting to a still from the multiple adaptations Fingersmith has seen and I wanted the original source to stand on its own.

Saying that, the main reason I chose this novel as the first audiobook I had ever listened to was thanks to how much I love Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden, which the author of Fingersmith, Sarah Waters, apparently very much approves of. There are differences between the two versions of course, which you expect there to be given even just the difference in time and location.

While The Handmaiden is set in Thirties era Japan-occupied Korea, Fingersmith is set decades earlier, in late 19th Century London and the English countryside. The first two acts follow pretty much the same pattern, only truly diverting for the third act, with Fingersmith adding a little more complexity than the movie adaptation, which has a limited run-time in which ti squeeze everything.

As I said, this was my first audiobook and I have to admit to being surprised at the narrator, Juanita McMahon putting on voices for the characters. I was honestly just expecting the novel to be read aloud - and read well, of course - and it did take me a little while to get used to a single person providing voices for all characters regardless of age or sex.

After my head 'tuned in' to this style of delivery, I quickly grew immersed thanks to both McMahon's excellent delivery and, of course, the brilliant source material. While I couldn't help but picture the two leading ladies, Maud and Sue, as Kim Min-hee and Kim Tae-ri, I fully accepted the voices provided by McMahon and grew to love these characters just as much as Lady Hideko and Sook-hee.

There are twists and turns aplenty here, and foreknowledge of what was to come made me appreciate Waters' writing even more, picking up on hints and clues that I almost certainly would've missed if the novel had been my first experience of this story. The intricacy of the writing, and how it lays the ground for what is to come is masterful, never becoming too complex or looking down on the audience.

Is it as erotic as the movie version? That depends on how you like your erotica, I suppose. The Handmaiden, by virtue of being a movie, has the advantage of providing visual stimuli, but is lacking the internal thoughts, feelings and intimacy the novel provides. I will admit that there were moments in Fingersmith that surpassed anything in the movie adaptation for me.

This is a pretty lengthy story, so it took a while to get through it all, but I have to praise it for never wearing out its welcome and easily holding my attention from start to finish. I'll also say that there is one section of the book that was so vivid and horrifying that it has made me interested in finding out more about the reality of how women were treated in that particular situation at the time.

Fingersmith is simply wonderful and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Even if you have seen The Handmaiden, there are enough differences here to both satisfy the desire for something new and to create a genuine appreciation for Sarah Waters' talent as a writer of fiction. Even if the subject matter isn't something you'd normally consider, I think most people will find something to enjoy here.


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