Author: Michel Faber
Published: Canongate Books Ltd, 2002
Where I Got It: Bought it online
"Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them."
There has never been truer first lines in any other book I've read. The Crimson Petal and the White takes us on a journey through 1870s London. This isn't a place in the likeness of an Austen or Bronte novel; this is a dirty, corrupted city full of perverse men, poor children, and most abundantly, prostitutes. Our protagonist is Sugar, a nineteen year old veteran prostitute. She is infamous around London for doing anything and everything you please. Sugar is intelligent beyond her profession; she spends her free time writing a rather sadistic novel. Because of her brains and inability to say 'no,' she manages to become the secret mistress of a wealthy man. This man showers her with everything she's ever wanted, making her free of prostitution. Sugar's sugar-daddy is hiding some other secrets at his own house (namely, an insane wife). When these two worlds of his collide, many lives are changed forever, all leading to a rather shocking, yet spectacular ending.
While reading this book, there were times I felt I needed to get up and go take a shower. After copious amounts of descriptions of certain bodily functions, sickness, smells of back alleys, and the too-often sex scene, I seriously felt dirty. While that may have bothered me, the author certainly achieved his goal. Michel Faber did not set out to write a romance novel full of innocent virgins, dashing men, and days graced with sunshine and butterflies. He brought to life a story of less than perfect characters in the underbelly of society.
If you are willing to sit through 900 pages of what I described above, I promise you it'll all be worth it in the end. The characters are at times vile, heartless and mean spirited, yet you will fall in love with them in some twisted way. My emotions were truly a part of this reading experience.
The Crimson Petal has been labeled a neo-Victorian novel, yet I don't think it is. Victorian novels are usually neatly tied up in the end, practically with an "and they all lived happily ever after" to boot. This one does not, which makes it so perfect. 4.5 stars.