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


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English (166)  Dutch (4)  Italian (2)  German (2)  French (1)  All (175)
Showing 1-5 of 166 (next | show all)
I'm a huge fan of two of Michel Faber's other works - The Book Of Strange New Things and Under The Skin - and also love Victorian settings, so the only surprise was that it took me so long to get round to The Crimson Petal And The White.

I LOVED this novel. Yes, it's long, but the writing is so immersive and the characters so human and well developed that I could happily have read another 800+ pages. As it stands, I'm glad it ended the way it did (which seems to be a controversial opinion!). ( )
  mooingzelda | Mar 2, 2017 |
At nearly 900 pages, the beautiful prose, compelling story and unforgettable characters make the book seem far shorter. Michael Faber takes us to 1870's London where Sugar, a 19 year old prostitute, intelligent and unusually well-read for a young woman of her station, yearns for a better life. Without giving away the plot, Sugar's story takes us from the lowest to the highest strata of Victorian society. Along the way we meet William, a hapless, rather vile little man, heir to a perfume company, and totally smitten with Sugar. There's William's child-like, empty-headed, naive wife, Agnes, who is madder than a hatter (we are eventually given a reason for her mental state), their hidden-away daughter Sophie, unacknowledged by her mother lest she have to admit to sex and childbirth, subjects she knows little to nothing about.

There are plenty of sub-plots, including William's pious brother, Henry, who is tormented by his lustful feelings for the widow, Emmeline Fox, who tirelessly works for the Rescue Society on behalf of the city's prostitutes. We also meet haughty socialites, bawdy prostitutes, dishonest servants, and most notably for comic relief, we have William's two drunken friends, Ashwell and Bodley.

This is Victorian life as never before seen and Faber minces no words in his explicit descriptions of the seamier sides of life. It can at times be a bit off-putting but it's never gratuitous and it further highlights the differences between the genteel Victorian "ideal" and the more tawdry side of the era. Along the way the cast of colorful characters undergo a lot of changes. There have been some who didn't like the ending but I found it to be perfect. ( )
  janb37 | Feb 13, 2017 |
The Crimson Petal and the White - Faber
Audio performance by Jill Tanner
4 stars

This was a trip to the dark side, or at least, to the underside, of Victorian London. Vivid descriptions, vivid characterizations, and a disturbing, dark, sordid, story. I can’t begin to say how very impressed I was with the quality of the writing. Every time I felt I’d had enough of the self serving William Rackham, or that I couldn’t take another description of the smells and filth of London’s dark alleys, I was still drawn back into the story by the excellent writing.

This is no pretty Regency romance. It’s an unvarnished look at the class and gender discrimination of late 19th century England. It’s about sexual exploitation and sexual repression. It is a sordid story. Rich in detail, superbly written, satirical, and not without its heartwarming moments, but definitely sordid. There is no way around that with a protagonist, Sugar, who is a teenaged prostitute. While she may be unusual in her intelligence and her education, Faber makes no attempt to ‘sugarcoat’ Sugar’s background. Sugar is an incredibly vibrant character. So are Agnes, Rackham’s mentally unbalanced wife, and the righteous reformer Emmeline Fox. All of the male characters were either insufferably selfish and domineering or spinelessly weak. William Rackham was all of those things. The emotionally dysfunctional nature of the relationships in this book made me think of Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I wanted to escape with Agnes and go to the Convent of Health. But, there’s no doubt that it was a page turner, all 835 pages. I was invested in these characters.

Despite the compelling prose and brilliant characters, I won’t give the book 5 stars. That is mostly a matter of personal taste. I understand the graphic and unlovely descriptions (and varieties) of the sexual act, given the nature of the book. It wasn’t gratuitous or overdone. It was realistic. However, I did tire of endless descriptions of other biological functions. I have a limited tolerance for urination, defecation, and vomit as plot devices. And, as much as I enjoyed Jill Tanner’s sly performance, this is where I turned to the printed text to avoid the repetition.

But, mostly, I found myself extremely annoyed with the ending. At the beginning of the book I liked the voice of the unnamed omniscient narrator, who invites the reader to ‘follow’ Sugar. That ‘voice’, presumably the author’s, added a nice element of satire. As the story proceeds and the ‘voice’ drops out, until, BANG, it’s back again, at the end of the book; which is clearly not the end of the story. As I said, I was invested, 835 pages of investment. I deserved a better ending. ( )
  msjudy | Oct 24, 2016 |
This was a really, really weird book. I read about 150 pages before I decided that it really was not worth it. I couldn't bring myself to care about the plot, and the writing was abysmal. Also, his obsession with writing about the main character's (whose name I forget) penis was a little odd. I especially did not like when he referred to it as "swaddled" - it was just totally unnecessary, and kept making me think of it as an infant. I'm not entirely sure that this wasn't the point, which, in fact, makes it creepier. Also, "shame-hair". There. There was just no need for that. I mean, it's not like I didn't expect a lot of sex in a book about prostitution (or partially about that, anyway), but this was just... shudder-inducing. I was kind of curious to see where he was going with it. But not really. ( )
1 vote thebookmagpie | Aug 7, 2016 |
Find this review at Forever Lost in Literature!

Coming in at a weighty 800+ pages, The Crimson Petal and the White is not for the faint of heart - or those who do not like holding heavy objects for long periods of time. It may be long, but the incredible thing about this book was how quickly it flew by. It took me a bit longer to finish The Crimson Petal and the White than the average book, but I never once felt like I was slogging through it. The characters and writing style were both so vivid and full of life that I had absolutely no problem zipping through this story. A quick obligated word of caution: if you do not like to read about sex or sexual-related activities, then you may want to set this book every so gently back on its shelf and move on, though personally I would recommend that you dive in anyway because of what a wonderfully told story this is.

The most prominent and creative aspect of The Crimson Petal and the White is the narration. It has an overall second person narration (which I am actually not normally a fan of), but much of it is told in a way that sounds third person. When Faber does dive into the second person, it's with sheer brilliance. It's written as if you are being taken on the most intense, detailed, and scandalous tour you'll ever be a part of; I almost felt like I was watching a movie with the camera zooming in and around various people and settings. It's fantastic, and I'm truly not sure if I've ever read anything quite like it.

The setting is a gritty, dirty, and shockingly authentic Victorian London. There's no sugar-coating, nothing to make the setting or characters appear more noble than they are (or aren't), and it's pure brilliance. There's was a constant sense that I was rooting around in the private affairs of others that Faber captured extremely well and truly brought the entire story to life.

One aspect of Faber's style that really stood out to me was his extensive use of detail, which I think is part of what made everything so lifelike and authentic. Everything is so clearly described or minutely detailed that it's hard not to find yourself sucked into the story.

What I loved was how Faber really played with his characters, but at the same time seemed to almost let them lead the story in whichever direction they desired. Sugar, one of our main characters, is strong and independent, but contains a small, sentimental hope for something more in her life. As a prostitute, she is always sharing her body, but what she truly seems to want to do is share her mind; she wants to write and be outspoken, to make a stand and allow others to understand the experiences of prostitutes and others like her. She wants men to realize that the women they so rudely and carelessly take advantage of are just as - if not more - capable and clever as them.

William Rackham, a second main character, is also a deeply layered man. While on the surface he appears and acts as if he has great disdain and a lack of patience for his ailing wife, his actions show something rather contrary, which is difficult to discern, but still noticeable: he loves her. No matter what, he can't seem to help but love her, no matter the frustrations she causes him to have. William seems to want nothing more than a normal, happy, sufficient marriage. But that is not what his circumstances give him, and so instead we see how he handles these issues, how he ends up meeting Sugar and how they interact and how their own uniquely personal relationship unfolds.

Along with Sugar and William are a variety of other extremely colorful and strong characters, and I strongly encourage you to give this book a chance in order to meet all of them in greater depth.

The ending is both excellent and frustrating at the same time - it's almost a non-ending, leaving you wondering what more could happen, but it's also an absolutely, perfectly satisfying wrap-up that almost seems to tease you with more, but at the same time leaves you content and satiated. It's as if it were all somehow meant to be.

I do feel as though I've been giving out quite a few five stars lately, but I can't help that I've just been immensely blessed to keep stumbling upon such fantastic books. As you can guess, I am giving The Crimson Petal and the White a well-earned five stars. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels mature enough to jump on for the ride! ( )
1 vote ForeverLostinLit | Jun 28, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 166 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Faber, MichelAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Faber, Michelmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Świerkocki, MaciejTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dal Pra, ElenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Damsma, HarmTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larsson, NilsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Möhring, Hans-UlrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miedema, NiekTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Omland, StianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pareschi, MonicaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pekkanen, HilkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Saint-Aubin, Guillemette deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tanner, JillNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Varrelmann, ClausTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vigild, NielsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JaimeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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
To Eva, with love and thanks
First words
Watch your step.
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Disambiguation notice
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Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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"

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:28 -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)

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2 editions of this book were published by Canongate Books.

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