Thursday, October 31, 2013

Affinity by Sarah Waters

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! 

And what a timely review this is!

Well it only took me two and a half years to read this one! Let that not reflect negatively on the book, mind you. I started it when I hosted my first readalong (which I did not complete, bode badly much?). For some reason it wasn't clicking, but I've picked it up frequently enough that I remember a lot of the plot from the first half of the book. When I dove back into it earlier this week for RIPVIII, I still had my grasp of the plot and characters and magically, it stuck with me! 

We're plunked down in 19th century London and the story is told through the journal entries of Selina Dawes and Margaret Prior set several years apart. Margaret becomes a "visiting lady" at the oppressive Millbank prison, and she meets the talented, damned, Spiritualist medium (Selina). The two find that they have quite an affinity for one another. Margaret is downtrodden, held captive by female gender norms of the time, not to mention her nagging mother and her feelings for other women. Selina, on the other hand, is literally held captive for some shady offense that landed her in the pokey, but she's such a nice little thing. And that whole talking to spirits talent can really come in handy sometimes. 

As you might imagine, all is not as it seems in Affinity. Margaret Prior has a mountain of emotional and psychological issues after her father's passing. She's heartsick with lost love. She just needs something to believe in. Selina comes from a difficult past, given her profession, and it's captivating to watch this tale unravel from both sides of the plot. 

Waters certainly has a talent for evoking the oppressive (how many times can I use this in the review?) surroundings, and the prison and its inmates are wonderful symbols for larger themes and tropes from within this Victorian time period. And the Spiritualist element of this really gave me the creeps! Selina has a particular spirit attached to her who goes by the name of Peter Quick. In his up-to-no-goodness, I found myself with goosebumps several times. 

Additionally, I thought Selina's Spirtualism was a nice counterpoint to Margaret's lesbianism. While they are both lesbians, both facets of the characters' lives kept them closeted. These two elements seemed to run parallel to one another and eventually intermingle. It's hard to explain. I'm stilling thinking over it and trying to formulate my thoughts on the particulars of this portion of the novel. 

The ending is twisty and surprising. It gave me something to chew on and mull over upon closing the book. I may have waited two and a half years to read the whole thing, BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT! I gave this one 4/5 stars on Goodreads. The point deduction was only for the way the plot slowly built. I loved this in Waters' The Little Stranger, but obviously it took me a bit longer to get into this one. 

Pub. Date: January 2002
Publisher: Penguin Group
Format: E-book
ISBN: 9781573228732
Source: Bought it!

27 comments:

  1. It took me almost a year to read The Little Stranger, I'm not sure why. I loved it at the end, but around the middle I just felt that nothing much happened - or you've put it better, the plot built slowly. I found The Night Watch at a book sale, but I haven't felt like picking it up. Right now, from your review, Affinity sounds a lot more interesting!

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    1. I was much quicker with The Little Stranger, but it's exactly the kind of book that just terrifies the pee out of me. Psychological thrillery, maybe-a-ghost books make me jump every time. It took a while to lay the groundwork, but I ended up loving it! Good luck reading more Waters!

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  2. I don't have a lot of patience for slow plots these days but really want to try one of Waters' books.

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    1. They are really worth the slowness. I always feel like I really know and understand the characters. From the recommendations I've gotten, Fingersmith seems to be the most widely liked. The Little Stranger remains my fave at the moment, but I haven't gotten to Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet, or The Night Watch.

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  3. I've enjoyed a few of Water's books (especially Fingersmith)... need to add this to my list!

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    1. Awesome! I hope you like this one, too, if you get around to it.

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  4. I really enjoyed The Little Stranger when I read it last year, but I don't know, there is something about the marketing of Water's books that keeps putting me off reading more of hers.
    It isn't her writing style, or what she writes about, cause I love me some atmospheric and historic fiction (with or without ghosts), it just seems to be blurbed as "Lesbians!!!!" and that's a tad gimicky to me. I really must shake this off though because I'd guess the author has nothing at all to do with that.

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    1. I was watching an interview with Waters yesterday on BookTube, and she's actually really straightforward and vocal about the fact that with the exception of The Little Stranger, she writes lesbian fiction. She also talked a little about how much historical research she's done on lesbian lifestyles and culture during that time period. I think she may have an advanced degree--maybe even a PhD?--in history or lit that deals with the topic. So yeah, she said she felt guilty and pre-apologized for The Little Stranger not having lesbians in it when she spoke to lesbian groups around its release. Ha!

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    2. Oh it istn't that she writes lesbian fiction, its just that it seems to be marketed as LESBIAN!!! fiction, as though the lesbian part is a titillation for straight people. That's what I dislike about it, but as I say, that's my take of the marketing and it may be wrong.

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    3. OHHH, gotcha! Now I totally know what you mean. Yeah, the way its made a novelty is definitely an annoyance and certainly something I don't think she has control of or probably agrees with.

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  5. Aaaaaaa, it has taken me a million years to read Affinity and I still have not yet read Affinity. I'm the worst. I keep starting it and not enjoying it, but OKAY. It is good to know that the ending is twisty and surprising, because Sarah Waters is amazing at that and I love that about her. I am going to read this. I am, I am.

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    1. It's tough. It's a super slow build, for sure. Things picked up for me after the halfway point, and the ending is great.

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  6. I read this one and didn't like it :( I finished it but it just dragged to me...I'm glad you liked it though :)

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    1. It was quite draggy--especially in the beginning. I need to go back and read your thoughts!

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  7. Sarah Waters has never let me down with any of her novels but I must admit, this was my least favourite. It was creepy and atmospheric and the characters were so well written but it did just miss that little bit extra. I swear I've seen a rumour that Waters has a new one coming soon...

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    1. Well that's good to know because there's nowhere to go but up! I have all of her novels because I love her so much. And she DOES have a new one out in 2014!

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  8. I'm not familiar with Sarah Waters, but Affinity sounds intriguing to me. (And this exactly why I love things like R.I.P. So many books I've never heard of!) I've been reading about and researching Spiritualism, though mostly from the non-fiction side. It's always good to see how other fiction authors have approached the subject.

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    1. I seemed to have had a flood of books come into my house around the same time as Affinity that dealt with spiritualism--fiction and non. While I don't know if this is the best Waters book to start with (I loved The Little Stranger, and most people suggest Fingersmith), it was definitely intriguing!

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  9. I've not read this one but I did read The Little Stranger and enjoyed it enough for me to want to read another by her.

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    1. I looooved The Little Stranger. Everyone seems to love Fingersmith the best of her books.

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  10. This was my first Waters' novel, so holds a special place in my heart. It reminds me - I should really read The Night Watch. I have it on my shelf and I'm sure it's so good but it's the last one I have of hers to read!

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    1. Well at least she has a new one coming out in 2014 so you won't have to wait too long for something new!

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  11. I want to read something written by this author since a long time, and the time never comes! I like what you've said about this one, so perhaps it will be my choice. Sounds gothic and intriguing!

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    1. Very much so! Although, I think I liked The Little Stranger better. :)

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  12. Wow! 2 and a half years?! I have no problem with lengthy books, how many pages is this?

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    1. Mmmm, I think it's around 352 pages. It wasn't the length that bothered me, it was just settling into the book. Which is weird because I really love her writing!

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  13. Sarah Waters is a great author. Don't read "Affinity" because you think that it is a sex book (it is not). Don't read it because you think Sarah Waters is a lesbian. Read it because it is a great book. The best I've read in a long time. Believe me, I'll wait for her next book.

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