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Tipping The Velvet by Sarah Waters
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Tipping The Velvet (original 1998; edition 2002)

by Sarah Waters

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,8481141,343 (4.01)403
Member:ominogue
Title:Tipping The Velvet
Authors:Sarah Waters
Info:Virago (2002), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 480 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:fiction, Welsh fiction, Published in 2002, Published in the 2000s, Published in the 21st century, England, London, historical fiction, Read in 2013, Read in Belfast, Bought in 2013

Work details

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (1998)

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» See also 403 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
You know those books you love so much your words run away with you? This is one of them. Normally for a book I love this much I would write a review made of nothing but reaction gifs, but I just...can't. It took me so long to read this because I got sick and then busy with Christmas preparations.

This is my second reading after a very long time. My copy is very well loved by this point--taped at torn creases, bottoms of the pages stained with coffee, doodles in the margins (I promise I was still enthralled), and now as I read it a second time, I find myself highlighting my favorite passages—and trust me, there are many.

'You smell..' she began, slowly and wondering, 'like--'
'Like a herring!' I said bitterly. My cheeks were hot now and very red; there were tears almost, in my eyes. I think she saw my confusion and was sorry for it.
'Not at all like a herring,' she said gently. 'But perhaps, maybe, like a mermaid...' and she kissed my fingers..."


We follow the story of Nancy Astley, a Whistable oyster girl who falls in love with “masher” named Kitty Butler (otherwise known as a crossdresser—tails and top hat and all) that she sees one night at a music hall. Though she has a beau, Freddy (played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the adaptation—HOW COULD YOU EVER LEAVE HIM FOR A WOMAN, I HAVE NO CLUE.) she has deep feelings that she can't understand, and of course, being the 1890s, her sister, Alice, who's supposedly her best friend, is prejudice when Nancy confides in her. Eventually Nancy leaves Whsitable and her oysters behind to follow Kitty to London to be her dresser. Without giving anything away, twists and turns ensue and Nancy passes through three different women during her adventures—first Kitty, then being a toy for a masochistic group of lesbians run by the winner of Bitch of the Year Award 1893, then finally to a sweet gentle woman named Florence who has a tragic past love story. The ending made me happy and just...I related really well to Nancy, I think, because I have a deeply bisexual inclination (That probably helped my enjoyment)..that and it's so WELL WRITTEN!!! I was so so so immersed. It's laced not only with descriptive prose, but with actual music hall lyrics too.

“As I was a-walking down a London street
A pretty little oyster girl I chanced for to meet
I lifted up her basket and boldly I did seek
Just to see if she had any oysters..”

-(listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-BIYUkTfGo )

After my first reading, I watched the BBC adaptation, and my adoration was sealed. But I had other books to read. So now when I've had the chance to read it again after almost 2-3 years, ugh reader I'm dizzy! Imagine a Charles Dickens novel set in music halls and the backstages of the 1890s (among also a seedy hedonistic lesbian underground, the back alleys of London, the Socalist parties of the 1890s..), mix that with girl on girl action...

Water's prose matches perfectly with the time period, descriptive and lush but unlike most of the Victorian's...unbelievably risque, nearing erotica. But it's not lazy erotica. It's a very decadent, atmospheric read. Just a big piece of red velvet cake, like the curtains on stage, or the curtains in other areas..You just get pulled right in and it's amazing. It's filled with sex and music halls and struggles and passion..

"I could not take my hands from her, but she seized my wrists and kissed my fingers and gave a kind of nervous laugh, and a whisper 'You will kiss the life out of me!'

The only thing that would've made it better would be to have pages of photographs of actual music hall performers, especially mashers of this era. I also think it would be neat to hear what some of these songs actually sounded like.

A lush, sexy, 5 course meal of a book. I recommend it highly---to read again and again. A definite favourite. Brava, Ms.Waters! Brava! ( )
1 vote ShyPageSniffer | Sep 29, 2016 |
Sometimes I get the urge to revisit Nancy and Florence. Every re-read is the same: I dread the middle portion of the book but enjoy the first part and love the final part enough to keep going. I don't know why I can't just give myself permission to skip to the parts I want, but I can't.

The end makes it all worthwhile. ( )
  amcheri | Aug 22, 2016 |
4.5* really, but not quite 5*

"And last of all I had a fondness – you might say, a kind of passion – for the music hall; and more particularly for music-hall songs and the singing of them. If you have visited Whitstable you will know that this was a rather inconvenient passion, for the town has neither music hall nor theatre – only a solitary lamp-post before the Duke of Cumberland Hotel, where minstrel troupes occasionally sing, and the Punch-and-Judy man, in August, sets his booth."

Delicious, sensuous, fun. These are not usually the first words that come to my mind when describing what essentially is a Bildungsroman - a coming of age story.

This one was!

Set in the late 1880s, early 1890s, nine-teen year old Nancy Astley falls in love: first with the theatre, then with a music hall star. What follows is a topsy-turvy romp of an education of girl from a rather sheltered background who embarks on life:

"I remembered Walter saying that we were at the very heart of London, and did I know what it was that made that great heart beat? Variety! I had looked around me that afternoon and seen, astonished, what I thought was all the world’s variety, brought together in one extraordinary place. I had seen rich and poor, splendid and squalid, white man and black man, all bustling side by side. I had seen them make a vast harmonious whole, and been thrilled to think that I was about to find my own particular place in it, as Kitty’s friend. How had my sense of the world been changed, since then! I had learned that London life was even stranger and more various than I had ever thought it; but I had learned too that not all its great variety was visible to the casual eye; that not all the pieces of the city sat together smoothly, or graciously, but rather rubbed and chafed and jostled one another, and overlapped; that some , out of fear, kept themselves hidden, and only exposed themselves to those upon whose sympathies they could be sure."


Despite all her errors in judgement, Nancy is such a great character that I could hardly put the book down to hear her story, wanting to make sure she would be ok and at times envying her freedom from care at the same time.

I should point out that my rating system is rather conservative and that I reserve 5* for books that truly knock me over, and that will stay with me for a long, long time to come.

The only reason that keep me from giving Tipping the Velvet my full five stars is that some of the dialogue is a little too forced, too smooth - a minor flaw that vanishes into insignificance when compared to many other novels (especially in the romance genre) because the writing is still excellent. However, knowing that The Night Watch and The Paying Guests are just that little bit more powerful (in my estimation) it does not feel right to rate Tipping the Velvet at the same level of excellence.

Review first posted on BookLikes: http://brokentune.booklikes.com/post/1036156/tipping-the-velvet ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
  TheIdleWoman | Jun 26, 2016 |
This was a re-read... it was the first Waters novel I'd read, and I read it because I saw (and loved) the film. But elements of the film and the book were getting a bit confused in my head, plus I'd run out of books by Waters to read, so I thought I'd read this one again.
It's really an excellent book - it's both a convincing and touching narrative of a young woman's path to maturity and a true understanding of love, and an exciting tour through 19th-century London's demimonde. Erotic without being gratuitous, it's got scenes and characters that will stick with you for years. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 107 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sarah Watersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dabekaussen, EugèneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maters, TillyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster?
Quotations
"Dreams," I said. He snapped his fingers. "The very stuff that stages are made of."
"In short, Nance, even was you going to the very devil himself, your mother and I would rather see you fly from us in joy, than stay with us in sorrow - and grow, maybe, to hate us, for keeping you from your fate."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine Tipping the Velvet the novel with Tipping the Velvet the DVD.
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Book description
Piercing the shadows of the naked stage was a single shaft of rosy limelight, and in the centre of this was a girl: the most marvellous girl - I knew it at once! - that I had ever seen. A saucy, sensuous and multi-layered historical romance, Tipping the Velvet follows the glittering career of Nan King - oyster girl turned music-hall star turned rent boy turned East End 'tom'.
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Nancy Astley, a fishmonger in Whitstable, becomes smitten by male impersonator Kitty Butler and attends shows until the star notices her, which leads to the two becoming partners in romance and performance until societal pressures drive the two into situations that embrace the ambiguity of sexual preference and gender roles.… (more)

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