Review by: Melissa Rigney

May 2003

By Sarah Waters
ISBN: 1-57322-873-7

I grew up addicted to Victorian novels. By the age of eighteen or nineteen, I had read all the Bronte’s (which included throwing Villette across the room in frustration at Lucy Snowe – “why didn’t she just say something!”), most of Eliot, all of Thomas Hardy, and a good chunk of Dickens. For my senior seminar in college I chose “Dickens and Dostoyevsky.” Something that today, makes me seriously question my sanity – what was I thinking! Partly, what drew me to these works was their size. There is something comforting about a thick, heavy 500 page novel. There is a security in thinking about quiet evenings spent absorbed in Jane Eyre’s fears and growing love for Mr. Rochester, or Dorathea’s marital disappointments in Eliot’s Middlemarch.

If you love the Brontes and Eliot, and if you love mystery, suspense, and scandal within the pages of a hefty novel, then you will also love Sarah Waters’ second novel, Affinity. Waters made her name with her first book Tipping the Velvet, about to make its film premiere on BBC America this month. Affinity is better than Tipping the Velvet. Waters has gained from experience and the mistakes she made in her first novel are not present in her second.

Sensual and suspenseful, Affinity is set in Victorian London and centers on Margaret Prior, a 29 year old spinster “recovering” from a suicide attempt. To her family, Margaret’s “illness” is a product of her grief over the death of her father. What quickly becomes apparent is that Margaret is suffering from a broken heart at the hands of her sister-in-law Helen who, ashamed of their love, quickly resolves her feelings by marrying Margaret’s brother. As a form of therapy, and a way to get out of the confines of the house she shares with her mother and younger sister, Margaret begins visiting the women at the local prison.

As a “lady visitor” it is her job to set an example to the prisoners and demonstrate what it means to be a moral and upstanding Victorian woman.aret, however, quickly becomes fascinated by one particular prisoner, Salina Dawes, a psychic medium jailed for assault and fraud. Through a series of unusual events Margaret begins to believe Salina has psychic powers and is in fact innocent of the crimes she is charged with. Waters’ narrative intertwines Margaret’s present day experience with Salina’s past as slowly the truth about Salina and her crimes, and the truth about Margaret, begins to emerge one haunting chapter at a time.

Waters’ books are well researched and her language is smooth, not forced. Her books are historical romance and mystery with a twist. Imagine Jane Eyre falling in love with Bertha, rescuing her from the tower, and living happily ever after. Hey, it could happen.

Also, check out Waters’ Fingersmith.

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