‘Lesbian Dickens’ was how I heard Fingersmith once described. Crude, but not miles off at first glance. There are definitely lots of Dickensian elements to the story: criminality, identity, class, poverty.
Sue Trinder is an orphan and thief from a den of iniquity in darkest, dirtiest London. She is recruited by a swindler as part of his scheme to con a young heiress out of her fortune. So they travel to Briar, the country home of cocooned and cosseted lady, Maud Lilly. Trickery ensues.
But Dickens, for all his subject matter, was a gentleman writer whereas Fingersmith is unsparing of the sordid detail. Gothic flourishes like asylums and perverted books are all thrown into the mix too. This blurring of genres means it’s certainly reductive to call it a Lesbian novel. The mixed genre makes it feel very modern, as does the unflinching gaze and fast pace.
These elements quickly accumulate to create a richly-textured page-turner. You do have to concentrate very hard though not to get lost in the silk layers, thimble-sized details and plot twists.
Not just Lesbian Dickens then, Waters shows that her prose is consistently and intensely readable- it says a lot about her writing that Fingersmith isn’t even my favourite of her books!
Read: on a gloomy afternoon in the countryside