Fantastic novel! It is my first try on Sarah Water’s works, I wouldn’t want to share the feelings at first as it is just fantastical; but then after my thinking and rumination of the novel being done a week later, I decide to write some words about it (though not comparably descriptive and beautiful as Affinity), and I recommend this novel strongly.
1874. London. Margaret Prior, determines to shake off her agony of her father’s death which happens two years earlier as well as her unpleasant memory of the suicidal attempt, she embarks on the journey of being a Lady Visitor at Millbank prison. Not only she is to be held responsible, in the eyes of matrons, to educate the female prisoners and restore them in moral rights, but also as desperate remedies, “to look on women more wretched than her, in the hope that it will make her well again”. However there is no turning back as she slowly be of acquaintance and confidence of Selina Dawes, the spirit-medium, who is to be held in the cell for two awful long years…
To me, it may not be a good idea to make a comparison with Sarah Waters and other authors that I admire all through my reading experience, but it has got all good elements of a typical Victorian sensation novel (like the ones of Wilkie Collins’s, but in a different technique; this one does not make your head come clear until you have reached the end, so excuse me, I have much more pleasure from reading WC’s!) : (1) a poignancy touch of fatality and sympathy of the poor and the condemned who live in hostility and harsh conditions, provided with the rich details and research by Sarah Waters (great knowledge of history regarding Millbank prison); (2) psychological and physical incarceration of women in 19th century (which is a good decision to set the novel with homoerotic affections; for me it underlines this issue perfectly); (3) scientific doubt (results from Darwinism and industrial revolution) vs. restrained superstitions; and (4) the clever plays on puns which are also the messages and themes of the novel.
It is a very imaginative but convincing story that hooks you on and keeps you staying up in bed all night in finding out what would possibly happen next. You will find the novel a bit depressing with the atmosphere of the octagon-shaped prison; it is nonetheless thought-provoking along the read. To be said it all, It drags you in a “drugged and dreamy sense of self-loss” (from The Happy Reader)! If you feel happy to analyse the novel, get yourself a copy, it’s well worth it!
For the next read, I might get myself to read some psychological thrillers. It seems to be the genre I’m interested in at the moment!