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The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel…
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The Crimson Petal and the White (original 2002; edition 2003)

by Michel Faber

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,914None932 (3.89)1 / 327
Member:Booksloth
Title:The Crimson Petal and the White
Authors:Michel Faber
Info:Harvest Books (2003), Paperback, 944 pages
Collections:Your library, Fiction, Historical fiction (WWII and before), Favorites
Rating:*****
Tags:How Novels Work, Beautiful writing, London, Book Lust, Xmas/Winter

Work details

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (2002)

19th century (104) 21st century (21) British (38) British literature (25) contemporary fiction (20) England (138) fiction (748) historical (138) historical fiction (457) historical novel (24) history (25) Kindle (18) literature (31) London (149) novel (90) own (45) prostitute (23) prostitutes (51) prostitution (179) read (74) Roman (17) romance (22) sex (24) to-read (136) UK (24) unread (53) Victorian (174) Victorian England (51) Victorian Era (22) women (27)
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English (140)  Dutch (4)  Italian (2)  German (2)  French (1)  All languages (149)
Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
I enjoyed both the story and the way he writes. It was entertaining and always drew the reader back in if they begin to wonder away. However, I never like a book that does not end the story and leaves a lot of questions. I think a solid ending is ultimately the sign of a very talented writer, the hardest part to do. This one missed and didn't end at all. I would rather have seen it go to a series with the other characters than do what it did. Oh well, I'll try another book of his and see if it is a pattern, in which case I wouldn't continue to read his works. ( )
  lawn2000 | Jan 31, 2014 |
This book came incredibly highly recommended by the member of Library Thing, and with the book being made into a TV mini-series on the BBC, I just had to read it. This is the story of Sugar, a prostitute in late nineteenth century London, who meets William Rackham, up and coming perfume brand owner. Sugar wants to get out, and William may be able to offer her that oppurtunity.
Starting the book I loved the style of the narrator, where we are transported through London, following several characters before getting to the main part of the story.
The story itself swept me away, I couldn't put the book down. The thing I did not like about the story was the ending. To me it seemed that the writer had a set amount of pages, and just ended the story quite abruptly.
After I finished the book I read an interview with Michel Faber and his wife, where he talked about how William was such a villainous character. I really didn't experience him as a villain, but as a tragic character that despite everything, couldn't help himself in trying to do the best he could to fit in to society. The book gets four out of five stars. ( )
  divinenanny | Dec 29, 2013 |
For what it's worth, I don't give a five star rating lightly. It seems kind of sacred to me, and meant to be used only for books that, where I limited to one of those desert island scenarios, I couldn't live with out. So when I say this is a 5 star book, I want you to know I don't mean it's just another good book I enjoyed reading- this, in my humble opinion, is Faber's Magnum Opus. The kind of book that leaves you with the realization that, once you finish it, you might as well just pick up a magazine, because there is simply no way anything will measure up. The kind of good book that ruins reading, for you; at least until the memory of it fades a bit, and other books aren't so overshadowed by it.

The Crimson Petal & The White is multi-layered and backed up by an ensemble cast from every rung of Victorian England's social ladder. At the center is Sugar, a highly intelligent victim of circumstance, who is known as one of the most promising (albeit fictional) prostitute to ever grace Harrison's List. She is beautifully flawed, hardened by her experiences, and determined to establish some sort of future for herself. The solution come forth in the form of one William Rackham; Sugar's customer-come-lover. Narcissistic, pathetic, and entirely in denial about his mentally ill wife, William is heir presumptive to a sundries manufacturing business, and a would-be intellectual dandy who is often peeved by the ease with which his college mates seem to enjoy life. Rackham married Agnes, a trophy wife of sorts, who has since descended into a world of her own that denies the existence of her and Williams daughter. Agnes is kept quite clear of the world, living instead out of her bedroom, and in her head, with the care of a loyal servant; while Rackham continues to deny her illness and tries to keep it together for the sake of the Joneses next door.

Like all women of that era, Sugar knows beauty fades, and that security is a must; in Victorian England, a woman's security was undeniably tied up with a man- be it by marriage, or as a mistress. Sensing William might be malleable and fiscally sufficient enough to be that man, the underlying focus of the story revolves around Sugar's increasing efforts to ingratiate William to her, in the hope that he will eventually keep her.
There are many other characters in this tome, and each one has their own vastly different, but just as interesting story to tell- a brother to Rackham, who is of the cloth, but loves a bluestocking, liberal woman named Emmeline Fox; a myriad of prostitutes, pimps, madame's, and foundlings; as well as a handful of passerby's whose lives we are given a glimpse of. But at it's heart, the book is a love story about Sugar, though not between her and William, as it would seem. Faber writes people as real people; for better or worse, and no one is ever really entirely a victim, a scoundrel, or a stereotype. He can make even the most despicable person sympathetic, and the most sympathetic despicable.

Titled after Lord Tennyson "Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal"; the one thing that each character has in common is the elusive search for redemption through their idea of another, rather than the actual person; each isolated and alone by their own self-involvement.

This is not a quick read. At 900+ pages, it can be a bit intimidating to some, but I've never been deterred by a big book (frankly, books that can double as door-stoppers make me giddy). In most cases, the book doesn't really warrant that much type, but Faber delivered a highly readable, extremely engaging story that left me wanting more. It is raw and brutal; so honest and truthful, that you can almost hear the clatter of carriage and hooves, and smell the perfume of 19th century London's underbelly. Even in the presence of the book's finer society, ugliness pervades, and Faber never once gilds the lily, or trades on his principles just to make a buck on a broader prospective audience of readers- and for this, I love him all the more. But for the reader who prefers things tied up nicely, or short and sweet, this may not be the book for you.

A lot has been said about the ending, and I don't want to throw in any spoilers, so I'll just reiterate this: Faber doesn't spin silver cloud stories, but despite most people feeling that it was a less than happy ending, I thought it was perfect. Perfect, and plenty happy, for the parties involved- and left in a way that at least gave me some hope that Faber might someday return to these characters, and give them life again.

It can at times drag a little, but for me, at the finish, I would have gladly taken ten more chapters about the dull, daily going-ons of any one of these characters, b/c I fell so in love with them. Fortunately, Faber penned an epilogue/prologue of sorts, (The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories), which is a compilation of short novellas on various characters (but sadly, was not nearly long enough to satiate me).

The BBC also released a mini-series based on the book, and it was brilliant. It would have been impossible to breathe life into every character and happening from the book on screen in the space of 4 prime time hours, but overall, the job done was a deliciously good one, and worth a watch. And if you've seen the series, and are debating the book, then pick it up- you won't regret it. ( )
  SparrowByTheRailStar | Oct 21, 2013 |
The weakest book i read by Faber so far. Which says a lot about his incredible high standards. ( )
  Wolfseule | Oct 15, 2013 |
The weakest book i read by Faber so far. Which says a lot about his incredible high standards. ( )
  Wolfseule | Oct 15, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 140 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michel Faberprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dal Pra, ElenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pareschi, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The girls that are wanted are good girls
Good from the heart to the lips
Pure as the lily is white and pure
From its heart to its sweet leaf tips.

The girls that are wanted are girls with hearts
They are wanted for mothers and wives
Wanted to cradle in loving arms
The strongest and frailest lives.

The clever, the witty, the brilliant girl
There are few who can understand
But, oh! For the wise, loving home girls
There's a constant, steady demand.

from 'The Girls that are Wanted' J.H. Gray, c. 1880
Dedication
To Eva, with love and thanks
First words
Watch your step.
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Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
blurb : Meet Sugar, a nineteen year old prostitute in Victorian London who yearns for escape to a better life. From the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, she begins her ascent through society. Beginning with William Rackham, a perfume magnate whose lust for Sugar soon begins to smell like love, she meets a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters as her social rise is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds.
Haiku summary
Soapmaker's mistress
Wants to be secretary
But does a "Jane Eyre"
(thorold)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156028778, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:43:49 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

From the Publisher: At the Heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Michel Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape into a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters. They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage of her brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, child-like wife, Agnes; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie; and his pious brother Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with flesh. All this is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions. Twenty years in its conception, research, and writing, The Crimson Petal and the White is a singular literary achievement-a gripping, intoxicating, deeply satisfying Victorian novel written with an immediacy, compassion, and insight that give it a timeless and universal appeal.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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