- Paperback: 832 pages
- Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd (September 11, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1841954314
- ISBN-13: 978-1841954318
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.6 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 814 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,966,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Crimson Petal & the White Paperback – September 11, 2003
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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 out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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What Faber did right:
1. As already mentioned, the background scenery of Victorian London was outstanding. Bravo.
2. The utilization of The Season captivated me. I turned to Google to find out more and view pictures.
3. Portrayal of Agnes and her slow decline into madness.
4. Agnes’s ladies maid Clara was perfect - so cunning and devious. She reminded me of Ms. Baxter from Downton Abbey.
5. The ending – I am not one to demand all loose ends be wrapped up at the conclusion so the ending itself did not bother me*. What I am referring to here is my happiness about the final demise of William because he was such an A-HOLE!!!
What I believe were low-points:
1. Lack of insight into character transformations. What I mean here is that characters suddenly changed but there was little introspection. One minute William is a carefree bohemian socialist and the next he is a rising capitalist in the business world. How did he get there? Of course we are told about his money woes and problems with daddy, but Faber never got us – the reader – inside of William's head. It’s the basic “don’t tell me – show me.”
2. Ditto #1 for Sugar. One minute she is an exotic whore not interested in the world outside her room and the next she is governess and a so-called “lady” as she described herself. But how did she arrive at that point?
So there are more good than bad hence the 3 star rating. This was Faber's ode to Wilkie Collins with all the name dropping and references.
I appreciated the way Faber invited me to consider how insidiously our perceptions betray us.
Sex is a central theme and yet the acts of sex that are described (as best I remember without rereading) are all utterly one-sided. There is no shared intimacy of feeling. Very strange. That seems to me to be the gesture of the novel itself. We are invited to participate but the author is not acting in good faith. He seduces us with attractive protagonists, settings and minor characters; however, they are merely ornate, uncentered, protean surfaces.
Sugar is known throughout London as the prostitute that will do whatever a client asks, no matter how depraved or repulsive other whores might find it. Like William, she too, is an aspiring writer, with the difference being that she actually WRITES! She wants to publish a novel based on revenge fantasies on all the men she has slept with in her career. And by so doing, reveal mankind for the revolting animals they really are, and society as a skeleton of moral hypocrisy. When she meets William, she seduces him not only with her body, but also with her mind. She sets herself up as his intellectual and carnal soulmate, so much so that William even decides to take over his dad's hated pefume business in order to afford the price of making himself Sugar's one and ONLY customer!
In its most basic form, The Crimson Petal and the White is about sex. Sexual repression and sexual release. It's the book Charles Dickens would have written if he had been allowed to include not only human drama but also naughty bits that happen in the bedroom. Faber even imitates the omniscient narrators of old and makes witty asides about the past, present, and future of the characters. It's also about how dangerous, secret passions can become all too banal over the passage of time or when they become too domestic. A secret affair only holds its power and lust while it IS secret and you're in danger of being discovered. Once the cat is out of the bag, so to speak, it loses whatever forbidden fruit magnetism it had at its inception.
The book is pretty lengthy, clocking in at just under 900 pages, and the saddest thing is that after reading all those pages and savoring the beautiful language, you get to the end and are like "WTF? That's IT???" All the characters are left dangling in space with no resolution whatsoever. It's like a tv show that gets cancelled at the end of season on a cliffhanger and you never find out what happened to the characters or plotlines. There's a book of stories called The Apple that supposedly sheds a bit more light on what happened to the characters after the end of the novel, but to me, shave off some of the 900 pages and add an ending. Dickens never left you hanging at the end of his books! Don't try to emulate 19th century novelists and then flub the end! I felt kinda pissed about it and considered swearing off reading any more of Faber's novels...but I guess after I cooled down I've become a bit more forgiving and will most likely read The Apple to give myself some closure. It just seemed a real ripoff to spend over a month reading a book and then the author just blows off wrapping up his work. I would say to avoid this novel if you want any sort of payoff at its finish. If it had an end I would have given it 4-5 stars. Without one, it's a 2 or 3 star book.