Sunday, November 7, 2010

"The Crimson Petal & the White" by Michel Faber

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.


  1. Interesting first line! It really draws you in! I have this book on my ever growing TBR list. It sounds like the type of book that's perfect for a rainy day (or days since the book is so long). I really liked your review!

  2. I have this book on my TBR list. I got half way through it and had turn it back in to the library. HUGE BUMMER! I have since bought it and just haven't gotten to pick it back up. Hopefully I will soon.

  3. Thanks Jen! I'd think it'd also be good for cold, snowy for you, since I saw you were getting snow already! :)

    I was really surprised at how quickly I was able to read this! I could barely put it down. Hope you get to it soon Allison!

  4. Wonderful review. I'm one of those people who tried but couldn't make it through 900 pages of what you described. But the book is still on my shelf and you convinced me it deserves another attempt.



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