Flashback Friday: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

It’s time, once again, for Flashback Friday…

Flashback Fridays is a chance to dig deep in the darkest nooks of our bookshelves and pull out the good stuff from way back. As a reader, a blogger, and a consumer, I tend to focus on new, new, new… but what about the old favorites, the hidden gems? On Flashback Fridays, I want to hit the pause button for a moment and concentrate on older books that are deserving of attention.

My rules — since I’m making this up:

  1. Has to be something I’ve (you’ve) read myself (yourself) — oh, you know what I mean!
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

Add your link below — join in for Flashback Friday!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

(published 2002)

A book that quite simply took my breath away.

From Amazon:

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

The New York Times Book Review has called Sarah Waters a writer of “startling power” and The Seattle Times has praised her work as “gripping, astute fiction that feeds the mind and the senses.” Fingersmith marks a major leap forward in this young and brilliant career.

I first read Fingersmith in early 2011, after picking it up at a used book sale several months earlier. I hadn’t heard of the book or the author previously, but a booklover friend ordered me to “READ THAT BOOK IMMEDIATELY!” When someone with good book taste (i.e., book taste that aligns nicely with my own!) tells me that emphatically to read a particular book, I tend to listen. And in the case of Fingersmith, I’m oh so glad that I did.

Here’s what I wrote on Goodreads when I finished the book:

At the risk of gushing, let me just say that I LOVED this book. I can’t remember the last book that made me gasp out loud while reading — and this one did it at least three times. Fingersmith, set in Victorian England, gets its start, literally, in a den of thieves. It manages to incorporate every possible trope of the era, yet does so in a way that’s both fresh and startling. To disclose anything of the plot would be to ruin the joy of being shocked to the core by the twists and turns of this unusual book. Filled with well-drawn characters, including pickpockets and thieves, con men and gaolers, insane asylums nurses and booksellers, the mad and the suffering, Fingersmith is an evocative period piece as well as a superb literary adventure. I can’t recommend it highly enough, or give enough praise to the author’s achievement. I certainly look forward to reading more of her work!

I don’t give out five star reviews very often, but when I do, I really mean it. Fingersmith was absolutely a five-star book for me. Since reading Fingersmith, I’ve slowly been working my way through the rest of Sarah Waters’s books. (Really enjoyed Tipping the Velvet, liked The Little Stranger, looking forward to reading Affinity and The Night Watch).

Do yourself a favor: Read Fingersmith. And be sure to avoid all plot summaries! The shocks and surprises are not too be missed; don’t ruin it by peeking ahead!

So, what’s your favorite blast from the past? Leave a tip for your fellow booklovers, and share the wealth. It’s time to dust off our old favorites and get them back into circulation! 

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: This is my baby-steps attempt at a blog hop! Join in, post a Friday Flashback on your blog, and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Let’s get this party started!

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