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Affinity (1999)

by Sarah Waters

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,3511273,957 (3.72)276
"Gothic tale, psychological study, puzzle narrative...This is gripping, astute fiction that feeds the mind and senses."--The Seattle Times An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women's ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London's grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank's murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by on apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina's gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina's freedom, and her own. As in her noteworthy deput, Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters brilliantly evokes the sights and smells of a moody and beguiling nineteenth-century London, and proves herself yet again a storyteller, in the words of the New York Times Book Review, of "startling power."… (more)
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» See also 276 mentions

English (122)  Dutch (2)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (127)
Showing 1-5 of 122 (next | show all)
Took two readings to fully appreciate. I'm a big Sarah Waters fan and have been for many years. I've read all of her books, in the order that they were published. My first reading of Affinity left me very disappointed. Many of my friends had read it and raved about how great it was - it's the favorite SW book for some of them. 
 
After reading nothing but lesbian fiction - primarily romance - for several years, I've gotten back into reading horror and thrillers and mysteries. It took me quite a while to give Waters' The Little Stranger a shot. I was less than thrilled with The Night Watch because I found it pretty slow and it didn't hold my interest. The backward storytelling didn't help. But once I got into The Little Stranger, why I fell in love with her work in the first place came back. Except now she was telling ghost stories. It started me thinking about Affinity again and I decided then that I would eventually give it another shot. 
 
I picked up the audio version of the book and a couple days ago I finally loaded it up and got to listening. This time around I can finally say that I completely enjoyed Affinity. I believe that my expectations of it being a lesbian romance ruined the book for me the first time around. I kept waiting for the romance to really pick up - you have to remember that this book followed Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, both romances (although Fingersmith is more of a mystery) - and when it didn't, I suppose I felt a bit betrayed. Misled, at least. 
 
Going into the second reading knowing that it isn't a romance but a paranormal mystery of sorts made a huge difference. I was able to fully appreciate the twists and turns and let myself really see the relationships as they were written, not as my subconscious kept telling me they were supposed to be. 
 
Sarah Waters can write some emotionally dark fiction. I love it and can't say that I'm sorry that she's not writing romance anymore. Although there was definitely a romantic angle in The Paying Guests it was so much more.
 
Hurry, Ms. Waters, hurry! I'm ready for a new book! ( )
  amcheri | Jan 5, 2023 |
Not as good as Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet. Tipping the Velvet is really the best book she has written. ( )
  Carmentalie | Jun 4, 2022 |
The setting is London in the year 1874. Margaret Prior, a young woman from a wealthy family, has decided to become a “Lady Visitorâ€ù to the women’s ward at Millbank Prison. She is a deeply unhappy person, grief-stricken by her father’s death and bristling under life with her overbearing mother. The hope is that her charity-work will help with her recovery from a suicide attempt.

Margaret meets with the usual thieves and prostitutes but is particularly drawn to an enigmatic prisoner named Selina Dawes. Selina, she learns, is a spiritualist serving time after her last séance resulted in the death of her benefactress. Margaret gradually becomes obsessed with Selina and convinced of her innocence. As we read her increasingly desperate journal entries, we see Margaret cast the young woman as her savior, and herself as Selina’s.

Sarah Waters’ characters do silly things, selfish things, and even cruel things. But there is usually some redeeming quality that stops me from hating them entirely. Unfortunately the main character here is such a dipshit that I could not bring myself to care about her. At all. Just a disclaimer here, I do understand what a serious condition depression is. However, Margaret is the kind of person who wants everyone to be as miserable as she is. For instance, she insists on wearing mourning clothes at her sister's wedding. That has nothing to do with depression and everything to do with being a bitch.

I also disliked that the story boiled down to belief vs. skepticism. Either you think Selina is the real deal, or you think she is a con artist and spend the entire book waiting for the big reveal. Waters tries to keep it ambiguous by including excerpts from Selina’s own journal, but I found these passages unnecessary as well as illogical. Margaret never reads this journal. It was not presented at Serena’s trial, otherwise there would be no doubt about her guilt. And for God’s sake, if you are a con artist, why would you write your secrets down where anyone could read them? I guess Affinity itself is like a magic trick: depending on how cynical you are, you will see only what you want to see, and that will determine whether you see the ending coming or not. ( )
  doryfish | Jan 29, 2022 |
Over 50% in basically nothing has happened and there's no trajectory or sense of where it's going. ( )
  hissingpotatoes | Jan 28, 2022 |
A nuanced look at spiritualists. The Victorian prison aspect doesn't hold my attention the way it obviously does Waters'. The plot kept me guessing but didn't leave me feeling stupid. Mild spoiler to conclude: I am sorry for our privileged narrator's bitter end. ( )
  Je9 | Aug 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 122 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sarah Watersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Abrams, ErikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ascari, FabrizioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
中村有希訳Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Carlsson, Irja M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fernandes, IsabelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gawlik-Małkowska, MagdalenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ghersini, TeodoraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Retterbush, StefanieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sørensen, Henrik EnemarkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zulaika, JaimeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
林玉葳Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Сафронова, АлександраTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
אינגה מיכאליTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Caroline Halliday
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I was never so frightened as I am now.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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"Gothic tale, psychological study, puzzle narrative...This is gripping, astute fiction that feeds the mind and senses."--The Seattle Times An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women's ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London's grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank's murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by on apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina's gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina's freedom, and her own. As in her noteworthy deput, Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters brilliantly evokes the sights and smells of a moody and beguiling nineteenth-century London, and proves herself yet again a storyteller, in the words of the New York Times Book Review, of "startling power."

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Set in and around the women's prison at Milbank in the 1870's , AFFINITY is an eerie and utterly compelling ghost story, a complex and intriguing literary mystery and a poignant love story with an unexpected twist in the tale. Following the death of her father, Margaret Prior has decided to pursue some 'good work' with the lady criminals of one of London's most notorious gaols. Surrounded by prisoners, murderers and common thieves, Margaret feels herself drawn to one of the prisons more unlikely inmates - the imprisoned spiritualist - Selina Dawes. Sympathetic to the plight of this innocent-seeming girl, Margaret sees herself dispensing guidance and perhaps friendship on her visits, little expecting to find herself dabbling in a twilight world of seances, shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions.
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