Friday, 2 August 2013

The Crimson Petal and the White - Competition!

Title: The Crimson Petal and the White
Author: Michel Faber
Pages: 833 (paperback)
Published: September 11th 2003
Published by: Canongate

Sugar, an alluring, nineteen-year-old prostitute in the brothel of the peculiar Mrs Castaway, yearns for a better life. And when she is visited by William Rackham, the somewhat reluctant heir to Rackham Perfumeries, she begins an ascent through the strata of 1870's London society that offers us intimacy with a host of loveable, maddening and superbly realised characters.

Gripping from the first page, this hugely acclaimed novel is an intoxicating and deeply satisfying read - not only a wonderful story but the creation of an entire, extraordinary world.

Sugar is a 19-year-old prostitute in 1870s London. She is attractive in her unusualness. Tall and slender, with an almost boyish figure, at a time when petite, more rounded women are coming into fashion. She defies norms in other ways, looking after herself in ways which are day-to-day now but odd for the time, and is incredibly widely read.

It is all these things are more than make her so desired. Especially by William Rackham, who relishes having someone he can converse with and who agrees with his opinion on so many things, someone who seems so business-minded at a time when he needs it most. For he cannot rely on his wife, Agnes, in these testing and trying times, a woman who is seemingly half-mad. It is with the meeting of these two people that Sugar begins her ascent away from being a prostitute, and resulting in everybody's lives being changed in ways unimaginable at the start of the tale.

This book weaves a tale which, while not engrossing - indeed, it took me a good three weeks to get through - is interesting, compelling. I wanted to find out how high the highs went, and whether they would be sustainable or whether all would come crashing down. Faber utilised an unusual writing style, one which I hadn't come across before - you're addressed by a phantom tour guide, as a phantom yourself. You're described as following people around and told when to leave one person and go to another, quite frequently at the start of the book when the characters are being introduced, then rather less frequently as the story progresses. It was an unusual breaking of the fourth wall, but it worked.

Sugar is as compelling on paper as she seems to be in reality, and the changes she goes through over the course of the book are multitude and believable - grounded in what's going on around her and the situations she finds herself in. I thought the story was going to be more about her than it was, and was always eager to get back to her sharp mind when we were following other characters, but there were no story lines in this intricate tapestry of interconnecting lives that I didn't like.

All the best characters are probably the female ones, and Agnes was always particularly interesting to read about, her view of the world being skewed so easily and providing for unusual views of the most ordinary things. On top of this, Sophie was truly endearing, and though she only really features in the latter parts of the book I enjoyed her interactions with Sugar and the small views we got of her father in the little times we spent with her.

Aside from the slight lack of oomph which would have kept me reading, the end of this book was left very open, and I'll admit to being a little unsatisfied. I need a more concrete sense of finish than what was provided. I don't mind if everything isn't neatly tied up in a package with a pretty bow, but the ribbon was still in the drawer and nowhere near the package at the end of this book.

Overall, a very readable book which I would easily recommend, though given the nature of the book some of the language leaves it unsuitable for younger readers.

If you would like to win this book (in a good condition) just leave a comment below. I'll leave it open for two weeks and then randomly select a winner! Open internationally.

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