The Crimson Petal and The White
…a book you won’t regret reading
Let go of your world and be completely engrossed as Michel Faber invites you to explore the darker side of Victorian society, and what a dark site it is. The opening pages grabs your attention immediately. ‘Watch your step, keep your wits about you, you will need them. This City I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before.’ Easily one of the best opening chapters you will ever read.
The narrator is your guide around London and introduces you to some very colourful characters , invites you into their homes and shares their secrets. We meet William Rackman, an unhappy failed writer who is feeling the pressure to take over the family’s perfumery business to end his money issues and a wife who spends her days in various states of illness.
Step in our heroine Sugar, a well known prostitute belonging to Mrs Castaway’s establishment, her determination to rise from poverty and her knowledge of how to please her customers while drawing on her experience to compose her own gothic novel makes for a very interesting character. William soon becomes infatuated with Sugar and as she gives him encouragement and love his wife is unable to he in unable to live without her.
The book is certainly door stopper sized with over 800 pages but is perhaps slightly unnecessary. Although you have that gut reaching feeling by the end not wanting to leave these characters behind, there are parts of the book where the plot thins and the pace drops but don’t despair, your patience will be rewarded after a few slower sections.
Faber has created a very sympathetic portrayal of the life of Victorian Women. From privileged Agnes who’s illness is treated by threats of life in the asylum to underprivileged Sugar, who has the constant battle of becoming indispensible to William as to not lose the roof over her head. The sections where Sugar is clearly making all the business decisions behind the perfumery business is especially bittersweet.
There is one last issue with this novel, there are some parts of the characters which are a little ambiguous making it difficult for you to understand their actions. Does Sugar actually care for William? Does William really think bringing a Prostitute into his household as a Governess the best thing to do? Nevertheless, you won’t regret putting the time and effort into this book. Reminiscent of Vanity Fair and with all the parts Dickens’s no doubt wished he could have written about any enthusiast of historical literature will succumb to Faber’s world.