Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, September 5, 2015

"Affinity" by Sarah Waters

You know you're really on vacation when you read an entire book in 24 hours. In regular non-holiday life, I think the only way I could read a whole book in one day is if it were very very short. Or maybe if I cut out sleeping altogether.

Anyhow. Affinity was a good read! It was very reminiscent of Fingersmith (in terms of Victorian lesbian love and betrayal) but was a fun and compelling read in its own right. And though some of it was a bit predictable (possibly only due to my previous Waters experience), I also made a few wrong guesses, and found a surprise or two as well.

I would like to take a moment here to digress about interpretation. Some stories are not open to it whatsoever, being laid out in an obviously plain and straightforward manner. Others, however, are less direct, hinting rather than explaining clearly, giving the reader the opportunity to draw his or her own conclusions. (Books like that are awesome, by the way.) Not for the first time (I definitely had this same experience with Anita Shreve's The Last Time They Met, and surely other times that are not coming to mind at the moment), I became aware that my conclusions, though they seemed solid, were not necessarily the ones that every reader would reach. If you've read this book and you want more details, read here to the part at the end (about Peter Quick) and know that the understanding expressed there is not the understanding I reached in my own reading experience. (If you haven't read the book, though, don't follow that link unless you relish spoilers.)

So, back to Affinity. It's the story of a repressed Victorian spinster (the young-ish kind, not an old lady) named Margaret who has suffered from depression, suicidal tendencies, the death of her father, and unrequited love for Helen, who overthrew their budding relationship for a more conventional life; Helen has married none other than Margaret's own brother. Margaret's psyche is in a state of healing, and a wrong-headed but well-intentioned family friend has suggested that a good method for helping her along would be for her to volunteer as a Lady Visitor at the dank and oppressive local women's prison. Margaret is meant to be a role model for the imprisoned women, and perhaps to see that her own life isn't so bad after all, but instead she develops an affinity for the beautiful young medium Selina Dawes, who was convicted (wrongly?) of fraud and assault after a seance gone wrong.

The first chapter of this book did an amazing job of drawing me in. I was trying to choose one of five books, and during my selection process I read the first few lines of each; once I did that with this one, I was sucked in. I knew I had to read the rest of this book. If the first chapter hadn't been so great I think I might have found the next few a bit slow, but I weathered the slightly sluggish pace with alacrity, knowing I was working towards discovering the answers to the questions whirling in my mind.

Now that those questions are laid to rest (to my satisfaction, even if my understanding of the ending is not the same as yours) . . . that mention of cutting out sleep altogether has been bothering me. I think it's time to reassure myself with a nap. 

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