Affinity, Book Review, Gay and Lesbian Literature, Ghost story, Sarah Waters, Victorian pastiche
A perfect match of style and content by a real writer
The British writer Sarah Waters wrote a couple of stunning books (in this reader’s opinion) exploring the Victorian period, written from an unusual perspective – Waters is a lesbian, and most of the intimate relationships in her books are between women.
In two of these books, Affinity, published in 2000 and reviewed here, and Fingersmith, she is pitch perfect in inhabiting the literary style of the nineteenth century. I have a feeling re-reads are due!
Waters not only writes with finesse and precision about the Victorian world, but she has delightfully recreated a precise and balanced formality in her writing style, which conjures up the shades of Wilkie Collins and of course Henry James – a sly and crafty nod to ‘The Turn Of The Screw’ – in the naming of the medium’s control. As Affinity purports to be the writings from her two protagonist’s journals, the rather old fashioned structure of her prose is perfect.
Affinity, set in the 1870, is the story of a woman who visits prisons, doing good works, and there encounters a young medium. Spiritualism was widespread at this time, both taken seriously and the subject of fraudulent investigation also. This is a ghost story, a love story, – and a complex twist of a story to be unravelled and revealed. Very Wilkie Collins.
She weaves her story splendidly – in a more leisurely (Victorian) era, this novel would surely have seen publication in one of the literary monthlies or weeklies, and we would all have had to wait, breathless with anticipation for the next installment! How lucky we are to be able to read at our own pace!
The ending was shocking, and disappointing – but entirely proper.
This might sound like a contradiction in terms, but I think those who have already read the book will understand!
If she were really a Victorian writer, perhaps the ending could have been different, but because she reflects a more modern sensibility of the world of Victorian spiritualism, the ending is as it should be.
I wished the book had ended some other way, from my viewpoint as a reader who had been led to involve with the main character, because of the writer’s skill. However as a reader in the more modern ‘observer’ role, with a twentyfirst century observation, she gives the only ending acceptable to that sensibility.
What a clever writer! Even more so for not just being a writer who plays mind-games, and is purely cerebral – she writes with the gusto, liveliness and vivacity of Dickens and Thackeray.
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