Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Crimson Petal and the White, Summer Lovin' Day 3

I finally finished this chunky bastard of a book, and Goodreads tells me I've been reading The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber, for 21 days. I believe it! Weighing in at over 800 pages this contemporary-Victorian monster is a hell of a ride.

Sugar is a prostitute of wide acclaim with literary sensibilities. William Rackham is a failed writer and the disinterested heir to a perfume business. Agnes Rackham is William's mad religion-conflicted visionary wife who constantly puts herself in peril. And his brother Henry is a tortured soul, bound to be good by God's law, but in love and lust with the philanthropic, Emmeline Fox.

This was a really screwed-up bunch, but it sure made for a fun novel. I'm so impressed by Faber's writing. This book was published in 2002, and the language and literary devices are spot-on in their Victorian'ness. If Charles Dickens had a potty mouth and was allowed to speak the uninhibited truth about the filth, squalor and closeted moral depravity of Victorian London, this is what it would've been like!

There is truly scandal around every turn. The title is telling of a larger issue at play here: the nature of innocence vs. experience (if you know what I mean). It's a sensational novel that doesn't pull any punches. I had to laugh and roll my eyes at the characters' motivations and choices, but again, it was so freakin' much fun, I didn't even care that it was unrealistic. Aren't most Victorian offerings over the top and melodramatic? YES!!! It's what made this novel so great. 

The characters, while they were extreme, were oddly endearing for such a bunch of wankers and dirtbags. Sugar was, by far, my favorite. Near the novel's opening it becomes clear that she's writing a novel of an autobiographical nature, in which her clients come to grisly and disturbing ends. William is a simpering fool who really needs to put on his big boy pants and take the reigns of his father's business, but it takes a while for tides to turn and these characters to develop. I absolutely hated some of the choices they made, and it really was unclear--until the very last page--who would come out smelling like a rose, and who would get dragged through the muck. 

It was my first inclination that this novel came to a bit of a screeching halt, but in retrospect, and upon another reading, I think it ended perfectly.

Finally, The Crimson Petal and the White, is steeped in the literary. Book nerds, this bawdy romp is for you. Shades of Jane Eyre, John Fowles, Dickens (of course!), and my favorite literary gal: Estella. They're all here, haunting Faber's pages with their inspiration and echoing through his writing. 

I just can't say enough good things about this book. It's worth all 834 pages. 


Pub. Date: September 2002
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: E-book
ISBN: 9780156028776
Source: Purchased by me!








Today's participation post for the Summer Lovin' Read-a-thon is “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee," and I'll be introducing y'all to a favorite female character. I'm skipping Estella because it's so obvious. OK??? ;)

I originally planned to post this review on Thursday, but since I'm reviewing Crimson Petal, and I wanted you all to "meet" Sugar for today's participation post, I did the ole switcheroo. 

Sugar is a lady of the night, as it were, so she's had something of a hardscrabble life in Victorian London. As the book opens, she's quite famous among sultry circles because she will do just about anything for her clients, and she has a way of making them feel empowered. She's one tough, smart cookie with literary ambitions as she's intent upon writing a novel wherein her male cohorts come to grisly and tragic ends by her hand. It's sad to see Sugar "sell out"  as the novel progresses, but I'm happy to report that I liked her again by the end of the book. She was probably the most dynamic character in the novel. 

This novel was made into a BBC miniseries, and while I haven't seen it, I pulled this image of Sugar from the interwebs. She's not quite as I imagined her, but they did a good job casting overall, from what I can tell. 

Have you met any memorable female characters recently? 



33 comments:

  1. This has been on my list for a long time. As for memorable female characters, I've been rereading Gone with the Wind and man, Scarlett is just a doozy of a character. Falling in love with the book all over again.

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    1. I really need to at least try Gone with the Wind. I've never worked up the guts for that massive chunkster, even though Scarlett is one of my favorite characters in film.

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  2. Like Melissa above, I've had this on my list for ages. The BBC series was another incentive. And, now your post. But each time I mentally nudge the book further up the mental reading list, its size pulls it back down again; I can only handle one massive tome on the current stack at a time and, right now, it's Charles Palliser's Quincunx (which I'm betting you would like too). This read-a-thon is great for getting the pages turning though: good luck with your reading this week.

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    1. I know what you mean about only one giant tome on the stack at a time. I feel the same way, but I recommend working this one into the stack soon. It's a really good read.

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  3. I really liked The Crimson Petal and the White. I read it years ago and still remember it well. I am glad you liked it too. :-) I haven't seen the mini series but I do want to.

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    1. I haven't seen the mini-series either, but I definitely want to now! I think it's one of those books that will stick with me for a long time, too.

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  4. Okay. So now I am going to have the song Summer Lovin' in my head for the next day or so. Thanks for that. ;)

    I really, really, really need to read this one. I've had it for ages, and everyone who knows me says it would be one of my favorite books. One of these days, I need to lock myself into a room and ignore the world until I read ALL THESE BOOKS!!

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    1. Hahhh haha! I do what I can.

      You would love it. You totally would. Suck it up, woman. And I know how you feel re: all the books. ALL THE BOOKS.

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  5. I've been meaning to read this for year's. I started it in 2004--it was the first pick for a new book club right after moving to a new city. I promptly ordered it from Amazon and was aghast when it arrived--800 pages for a book club pick? I started it--and loved it--but bailed on that book club and never finished it. I will definitely have to pick it up again!

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    1. Awwww, poor Crimson Petal got ditched! I think you'd really like it, but I know it is a time commitment. A good one though!

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  6. I need to read this I think. The fact that it is full of literary allusions seals the deal for me. I love a good allusion :)

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  7. So glad you loved it because I did too! You should read the short story collection 'The Apple' as one of the stories does give a bit more resolution about what happened to Sugar after Crimson Petal finished.

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    1. Oooh, thank you for the reminder. I've seen it when I'm surfing and it looks great! Resolution is good. ;)

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  8. The book sounds really cool, but 800 pages. . . oy! I seriously have an issue with chunkster books. They just take forever, and I always think, can't you say the same thing in like 300 pages? Spread it out over more than one book, you know?

    -Rebecca @ Love at First Book

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    1. I know! It's a commitment, but it's so so so good. Shockingly good. And yes, I totally know what you mean about chunksters. I had a serious problem avoiding them until I started the Outlander series back in 2011. They made me less afraid because if I really love a book, I'll rip through it -- chunkster or not.

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  9. Yesss, can't wait to read it! I had no idea it was a series, too...makes it a little more interesting. I love having an adaptation to compare to.

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    1. Apparently there have been two seasons of it. I haven't seen either, but I'd love to chase it down if it's available online somewhere.

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  10. Oh, Romola Garai is a pretty terrific actress, so I'll bet she does a good job with the Sugar character.

    And, OOF. Andiloo, you are posting too much!!! You're killing me, here. So many good things to read but I have to go dive into my book or I. Will. Die. I'm reading Caroline Leavitt's new book, Is This Tomorrow. It is so good. Look it up.

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    1. I've never seen her in anything! I'm excited to watch it if I can find it.

      LOL, sorry! It's been a REALLY good reading month in June. Just hoping July shakes out as well. Off to a slow start. Urrgh!

      I will definitely look it up! I've never read Leavitt.

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    2. I first saw her in I Capture the Castle. Have seen her quite a few places, since then, including a recent short with Dan Stevens, but I can't remember titles. Oh, she was in Amazing Grace with Ioan Gruffudd - loved that.

      All my months have felt slow (except January) this year. But, I've definitely made up for that with quality. Have you read Simon's new book? I can't remember if you have. That's one of my favorites. Is This Tomorrow, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and The Kings and Queens of Roam are a few that have blown me away.

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  11. Oooooh now I want to read The Crimson Petal and the White even more than I did before! I love me some hookers. That sounds wrong, but whatever. It's true. Prostitutes make for fabulous stories!

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    1. It's so gooood! Hookers make great characters, don't they??

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  12. Isn't it great to be on a reading roll? I'm on one right now and life is GOOD! The Crimson Petal and the White has been on my tbr list for so long that I owned a copy for years before giving it away. *sigh* I've just finished reading Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown. One of the main characters is a fantastic pirate by the name of Captain Mad Hannah Mabbot. This lady is kick-ass.

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    1. YES! Now if I could just get myself straightened out for July. Arrgh! Slow start, but need to get it going.

      I SO want to read Cinnamon and Gunpowder!

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  13. I love those "bad girls" of literature. Sugar makes me think of Carrie from Sister Carrie. The Crimson Petal and the White sounds like a fun read - thanks for sharing!

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    1. YES! Me too. And Sugar is such an interesting, dynamic character. And I LOVED Sister Carrie. Carrie was my fave character and Sugar reminded me of her too.

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  14. I've had that book for years (confession: since I heard about it on The Gilmore Girls) and have yet to read it. I am SO glad you gave it such a great review- you're making me want to move it up in the rotation.

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    1. LOVE hearing about books via TV and movies. Confession: I read A Moveable Feast because of that gawd-awful movie, City of Angels. Great book, shit movie.

      I hope you move it up in the rotation, and I hope you love it!

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  15. I really want to read this because of the setting. Love those victorian settings but the amount of pages. Yikes. Maybe I should read this when I'm on a long plane ride! :)

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    1. It's a quick read. Promise!

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  16. I lurve this book so much! Sugar is a stupendous creation. I loved your review--you capture the bawdiness and perversity perfectly. And it is a book about power and wealth, too, and the ways that men of wealth chose/choose to use that power. And judging from recent headlines, things haven't changed that much......

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  17. Oh yeah, this is another one of the big books I want to read soon. My book club read it before I joined and one of the gals says she can't remember anything about it except lots of sex!

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