- Explore more great deals on thousands of titles in our Deals in Books store.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
+ $3.99 shipping
The Crimson Petal and the White (Harvest Book) Paperback – Bargain Price, September 1, 2003
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Discover what to read next through the Amazon Book Review. Learn more.
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
Special offers and product promotions
Although it's billed as "the first great 19th-century novel of the 21st century," The Crimson Petal and the White is anything but Victorian. The story of a well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who spends her free hours composing a violent, pornographic screed against men, Michel Faber's dazzling second novel dares to go where George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and the works of Charles Dickens could not. We learn about the positions and orifices that Sugar and her clients favor, about her lingering skin condition, and about the suspect ingredients of her prophylactic douches. Still, Sugar believes she can make a better life for herself. When she is taken up by a wealthy man, the perfumer William Rackham, her wings are clipped, and she must balance financial security against the obvious servitude of her position. The physical risks and hardships of Sugar's life (and the even harder "honest" life she would have led as a factory worker) contrast--yet not entirely--with the medical mistreatment of her benefactor's wife, Agnes, and beautifully underscore Faber's emphasis on class and sexual politics. In theme and treatment, this is a novel that Virginia Woolf might have written, had she been born 70 years later. The language, however, is Faber's own--brisk and elastic--and, after an awkward opening, the plethora of detail he offers (costume, food, manners, cheap stage performances, the London streets) slides effortlessly into his forward-moving sentences. When Agnes goes mad, for instance, "she sings on and on, while the house is discreetly dusted all around her and, in the concealed and subterranean kitchen, a naked duck, limp and faintly steaming, spreads its pimpled legs on a draining board." Despite its 800-plus pages, The Crimson Petal and the White turns out to be a quick read, since it is truly impossible to put down. --Regina Marler --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Faber's bawdy, brilliant third novel tells an intricate tale of love and ambition and paints a new portrait of Victorian England and its citizens in prose crackling with insight and bravado. Using the wealthy Rackham clan as a focal point for his sprawling, gorgeous epic, Faber, like Dickens or Hardy, explores an era's secrets and social hypocrisy. William Rackham is a restless, rebellious spirit, mistrustful of convention and the demands of his father's perfume business. While spying on his sickly wife's maid, whom he suspects of thievery, he begins a slow slide into depravity: he meets Sugar, a whore whose penetrating mind and love of books intrigues him as much as her beauty and carnal skills do. Faber (Under the Skin) also weaves in the stories of Agnes, William's delicate, mad and manipulative wife, and Henry, his pious, morally conflicted brother, both of whom seek escape from their private prisons through fantasies and small deceptions. Sin and vice both attract and repel the brothers: William, who becomes obsessed with Sugar, rescues her from her old life, while Henry, paralyzed by his love for Emmeline Fox, a comely widow working to rescue the city's prostitutes, slowly unravels. Faber's central characters, especially the troubled William and the ambitious Sugar, shine with life, and the author is no less gifted in capturing the essence of his many minor characters-the evil madam, Mrs. Castaway, and William's pompous father-in-law, Lord Unwin. The superb plot draws on a wealth of research and briskly moves through the lives of each character-whether major or minor, upstairs or downstairs-gathering force until the fates of all are revealed. A marvelous story of erotic love, sin, familial conflicts and class prejudice, this is a deeply entertaining masterwork that will hold readers captive until the final page.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
Some readers pointed out that the story doesn't really go anywhere at all. I agree. That's what makes it even more remarkable that I found it to be so compelling. The truth is...this is a "slice of life" story -- a year or so in the lives of a variety of odd, interesting characters. This is a character-driven book....not plot driven. If you're looking for grandiose, dramatic scenes, don't bother. If you like your stories to wrap up nicely at the end...then really don't bother. But if you like the idea of being a fly on the wall...getting to know a group of people and all their messy idiosyncrasies in great detail, this is the book for you.
The characters in this book were hard to like and hard to dislike. At times I found myself feeling sympathy for the least deserving of individuals, and getting irritated with the ones who seemed to deserve my sympathy the most. These were some of the most human characters I've come across in a while -- glorious in their imperfections and maddeningly difficult to pin down. Faber also does a magnificent job painting a picture of the time and place...his descriptions were some of most vivid that I've ever encountered in a novel and they involve ALL the senses.
I would not recommend this book for people made squeamish by frank sex scenes or those who are attracted to the lighter side of Victoriana (no fairies here). This is a story that gives equal attention to all sides of 19th century urban life--dark squalor, pristine elegance, and everything inbetween.
(Some spoilers follow).
My problem, and one that I apparently share with the majority of reviewers, is the ending. I wasn't expecting a fairytale ending, Faber's characters were far too realistic to suddenly flout convention altogether and end up living happily ever after, but I felt I deserved a conclusion, even a tragic one. Faber owed it, it should have been the crowning achievement of the novel to take this totally unsustainable relationship and conclude it.
When I turned to that last page, I reread it four or five times, searching for some hint of the fate of the characters in which I had just invested a week of my life. When I found none, I felt as if my heart had been wrenched out and thrown on the ground. As I reflected on the book my sense of engagement and excitement was replaced by the growing realisation that it is in fact an extremely grim read with light rarely penetrating the dark.
It may be accurate, reflecting the world even to the extent that it has no clear beginning or end, but ultimately it is a bleak, disturbing and disappointing experience.
Faber (whose first novel, "Under the Skin," is totally different) takes advantage of his 21st century perspective to discreetly drop the Victorian circomlocution and ornate flourishes when the action calls for brevity. Not that you'll notice as his eloquence and skill as stylist and storyteller fuse so perfectly. The modern perspective also allows for graphic detail. There's a lot of sex, though not much eroticism. His protagonist, Sugar, started life as a prostitute at age 13, and sex is a living to her, not a pleasure. There's a lot of dirt and degradation and the politics of class and sex are ugly and entrenched. Yet it's a story full of life and hope and real people.
An omniscient narrator begins by inviting the reader into the lowest slums to begin making the connections without which meeting the story's loftier characters would be impossible: "their servants wouldn't have let you in the door." It's a cold, sleety November night. "The cobblestones beneath your feet are wet and mucky, the air is frigid and smells of sour spirits and slowly dissolving dung." Caroline, an unlettered country girl, finding in prostitution a refuge from the numbing, slow starvation of factory work, meets a former colleague who has gone up a rung in the world, Sugar.
Tha narrator fades away (although returning to tell us, for instance, that Agnes Rackham has a brain tumor, which will never be found) after introducing William Rackham, reluctant perfumery heir and tormented would-be artist, and the story gathers steam.William's allowance has been drastically curtailed by his father, impatient to hand over the reins. Forced to buy a ready-made hat, to make do with one less maid, William is miserable, and hearing of a prostitute who will do "anything," he resolves to be distracted.
But Sugar, as well-read as she is willing, captivates him. So obsessed does William become that he masters his father's hated business in order to restore his allowance and monopolise her. William discovers an interest in the arcana of perfume and soap and his fortunes ascend. As do Sugar's. She now has more time to read and to work on her novel - a pornagraphic opus of the violent death of heartless men.
She also has less freedom of movement. As point of view shifts between Sugar and the Rackham household, Faber contrasts Sugar's situation with Agnes Rackham's, William's sheltered, delicate and deranged wife. A virtual prisoner, alternately pampered and medically abused, Agnes' struggles to fit into the social world she was groomed for - her beautiful wardrobe, her total lack of biological knowledge, her constraints of behavior and speech - grow increasingly grotesque and heart-wrenching.
Sugar, transferred into a home of her own, given more money than she can spend, fights boredom with an obsession to learn everything about the Rackhams so as to secure her position. Distanced from her old life, she grows fastidious. The ugly violence of her novel repels, even embarrasses her. Agnes' delicacy attracts her. As Sugar's fortunes entwine more closely with the Rackhams,' Faber introduces a "Jane Eyre" element, underscoring the gulf between that novel and this.
There are a myriad of lesser characters who play crucial parts in breadth and development - William's older brother, Henry, a gentle religious zealot tormented by his own sexuality; Emmeline Fox, a consumptive, tart-tongued widow and the object of Henry's affection, who evangelizes among prostitutes; William's old school chums, a pair of repulsive but amusing dandies; the Rackham servants, Sugar's horrible mother, various prostitutes. Faber shifts point-of-view at will, giving human voice to various levels of society and Victorian thought. His characters are masterful. Even the worst of them arouse empathy (well, maybe not Sugar's mother), and the best - Sugar and Agnes - practically step off the page. And in the end, it's William, despite his worldly freedom and privilege (or because of it) who is the most constrained, his soul the most confined.
In an interview with his publisher, Faber comments on character: "One of the most absurd tragedies about us as a species is that each of us is convinced we're misunderstood, alone, a misfit. There doesn't seem to be anybody in the world who feels they're what a standard-issue human being ought to be. Literature reminds us of this paradox-our specialness and our commonality." Faber's book is another paradox - a novel with perfect Victorian sensibilities, which could only have been written in our time.
I could go on and on, but I've run out of space. Suffice to say if this book was another 800 pages I'd be happy.