Although it's billed as "the first great 19th-century novel of the 21st century," The Crimson Petal and the White is anything but Victorian. It's the story of a well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who spends her free hours composing a violent, pornographic screed against men. Michel Faber's dazzling second novel dares to go where George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and the works of Charles Dickens could not. We learn about the positions and orifices that Sugar and her clients favour, about her lingering skin condition, and about the suspect ingredients of her prophylactic douches. Still, Sugar believes she can make a better life for herself.
When she is taken up by a wealthy man, the perfumer William Rackham, her wings are clipped and she must balance financial security against the obvious servitude of her position. The physical risks and hardships of Sugar's life (and the even harder "honest" life she would have led as a factory worker) contrast--yet not entirely--with the medical mistreatment of her benefactor's wife, Agnes, and beautifully underscore Faber's emphasis on class and sexual politics.
In theme and treatment, this is a novel that Virginia Woolf might have written, had she been born 70 years later. The language, however, is Faber's own--brisk and elastic--and, after an awkward opening, the plethora of detail he offers (costume, food, manners, cheap stage performances, the London streets) slides effortlessly into his forward-moving sentences. When Agnes goes mad, for instance, "she sings on and on, while the house is discreetly dusted all around her and, in the concealed and subterranean kitchen, a naked duck, limp and faintly steaming, spreads its pimpled legs on a draining board." Despite its 800-plus pages, The Crimson Petal and the White turns out to be a quick read, since it is truly impossible to put down. --Regina Marler, Amazon.com
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* This is an unputdownable book; there is no choice but to give in to this most unbelievably pleasurable of narrative rides. From Pointillism to broad brushstroke bravura, the prose seems to be on some benign, timed-release speed: its pace in unflagging, its onward rush irresistible... Faber's take on the 19th Century English novel is a heady and intoxicating mixture of affection, respect and scabrous resistance The Times * A sexy, bravura novel... wildly entertaining New York Times * When a book is this big, it had better be good - this one is. Dive in. Enjoy! -- Alice Sebold * Owes as much to John Fowles as it does to Charlotte Bronte. Which is to say that the book is both mind-bogglingly clever and page-turningly tempting. Don't miss it Daily Telegraph * An astonishing narrative sweep that encompasses Victorian society in all its colourful variety, it peels away the surface gentility and brings its world to vivid life. It's a feast for all five senses and in spite of its weight, it's impossible to put down. -- Val McDermid * Key to its success is the book's sly acknowledgment of its modernity without recourse to taking up the crude cudgels of irony ... a sybaritic pleasure and a ripping yarn. Times * Owes as much to John Fowles as it does to Charlotte Bronte. Which is to say that the book is both mind-bogglingly clever and page-turningly tempting. Don't miss it. Daily Telegraph * An intensely imaginative time-travel experience. Independent * Takes the historical novel and, in the spirit of its subject matter, submits it to a good rogering in terms of graphically exposing the sexual details Dickens and Co. couldn't (or wouldn't) write about. Sunday Herald * It is a long read but a rewarding one. It is also, unsurprisingly, a sexy one. Indeed, at times it seems that the real central characters are the readers, good voyeurs that we are. Observer * The verdict: a scary tome, but crack the spine and you're into a gripping tale ... Try if you like the thought of Dickens rising again to have a stab at erotic drama. FHM***** * At 828 pages, it's the size of a piglet and twice as heavy. Even so, I find myself lugging it to and fro on the train because my need to know what happens next outweighs the beast. -- Rowan Pelling * Down-and-dirty tale of an upwardly mobile Victorian prostitute ... a scintillating tour de force. Sunday Telegraph * A cracking read, a Victorian page-turner with a twenty-first-century consciousness. Wilkie Collins would be proud. -- Louise Welsh * The novel that Dickens might have write had he been allowed to speak freely ... Faber's writing is so dizzyingly accomplished that he is able to convince you that, just sometimes, the old stories really are the best ones. -- Kathryn Hughes Guardian * Wonderfully enjoyable ... an intensely imaginative time travel experience. -- Jane Jakeman Independent * An achievement which may leave you wondering if this vast work is, if anything, a little too short. -- Ross Gilfillan Daily Mail * There may have been many great novels set I Victorian times, among them A.S Byatt's Possession and John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman. No disrespect intended, but none of them compares with Faber's morality tale. It really is that special. -- Alan Taylor Sunday Herald * This novel is impressive for its unflagging energy ... With his enormous cast of characters and a plot constantly simmering with violence, sex, coincidences and melodramatic surprises, he also shows himself to be a master storyteller. -- Francis King Literary Review * From the opening pages it is clear that Faber writes some of the most ravishingly beautiful prose of any young writer. -- S.B. Kelly Scotland on Sunday * It is hardly too long at all, and thus good value at 0.02147p a page ... You are unlikely to regret a single hour/day/month spent in Faber's diverting, exuberant and intelligent company. -- Michael Thompson-Noel Financial Times * Extremely sophisticated. Daily Telegraph * Faber is the master of the spine-tingling page-turner, while creating a wholly believable universe. Dazed and Confused * And for readers finally tiring of the forced, fleeting, insubstantial and unrewarding efforts of all those lad-lit, baby-lit, metro-lit, dot-com, tex-lit, day-glo genres endlessly three-for-twoing on the bookshop tables, I would recommend Crimson Petal as a restorative and solid antidote. -- Robert Edric Spectator * In everything that he has written so far, Michel Faber has shown that he can write in a breathtakingly wide range of styles, from satire to lyricism. Here, he puts it all together. All the narrative tricksiness that allows him to lay convincingly false trails. All the historical accuracy that makes him a trustworthy guide. All the skills of characterisation that leave you wanting yet another 860 pages by the time you reach the novel's end. -- David Robinson Scotsman * More cautionary tale than morality play, The Crimson Petal and the White is sustained by comic genius, clever detail, inspired characterisation and a fluid, stylish feel for language. -- Eileen Battersby Irish Times * Alluringly readable. -- David Sexton Evening Standard * There has been no account like this: an intimate, unflinching, raw anatomy of a woman who makes her living from sex, yet has more intelligence and wit than all her clients rolled together ... its style, too, is exceptional - lucid, compelling, and intimate. -- Rosemary Goring Herald * A masterpiece. -- Alex Clark Red Magazine * An epic in the style of Dickens or Hardy, yet more enlightening of its time because it brings current sensibilities to its subject matter. -- Lorna Russell Big Issue * A confident, self-conscious, resolutely modern novel. It's a good read, and makes explicit all those things about which real Victorian novelists were so frustratingly coy. -- Rebecca Abrams New Statesman * A confection of melodrama, gothic horror, satire and sentimentalism. It is, in the wittiest, most irreverent way possible, teeming with the ghosts of literature past. -- Hephzibah Anderson Observer * This year's most entertaining novel. Boston Globe * Faber has crafted a rich work, taking on a Victorian form, style and setting, and put it to work exploring themes that exercise us today, managing all the while to spin sugary prose which, at times, takes your breath away. It's a trite phrase to end on, but if you read one novel this year, make it this one. -- Jack Mottram Big Issue * The Crimson Petal is not a book which could have been written by an author whose over-riding characteristic is indifference or remoteness. It is too compassionate and empathetic a novel. Faber's problem, it seems to me, is not his sense of alienation but his surfeit of humanity. -- Sunday Times Gillian Bowditch * Faber's best novel yet teems with surface detail - the sweat, noise, filth and colour of the streets and the drawing room. But its playful narrative isn't afraid to grapple with the big questions. Ultimately, it is most striking for its exploration of female sexual psychology, but perhaps its greatest achievement is that - despite its size - it's almost impossible to put down. -- Claire Allfree Metro * This gorgeously written book delivers a rush of blood to the head more satisfying than (almost) any other pleasure. Read it or regret it. Sleazenation * This is a novel to immerse yourself in and to savour. -- Simon Humphreys Mail on Sunday * A lasting love affair; the intimate relationship one develops with the characters after reading for 834 pages is much more satisfying than the mere one-night-stand promised by other novels. People Magazine * Faber is a writer of many moods and, whether shedding hilarious light on protocol in 19th-century brothels or unraveling the mixed motives of do-gooders trying to rescue fallen women, never fails to tell his story with wit, intelligence and charm. -- David Robson Sunday Telegraph * A hugely original take on the historical novel. -- Maggie Pringle Sunday Express * It's hard to imagine that any contemporary novelist could have appropriated with such skill and force the irresistible narrative drive of the Victorian three-decker, or that readers who hunger for story won't devour this like grateful wolves. Riveting, and absolutely unforgettable. Kirkus Review US * Utterly absorbing. -- Cathy Kelly Irish Independent * Cocky and brilliant, amused and angry, the author is rightfully earning comparisons to observer extraordinaire Charles Dickens ... It's hopeless to resist. Entertainment Weekly * Faber has the Victorian virtue of telling a good story grippingly and colourfully. The Crimson Petal and the White is an old-fashioned page-turner with pleasingly newfangled twists. Washington Post Here's a 19th-century novel that could have been written by a 21st-century Hollywood scriptwriter ... Sugar is Amber St. Claire, Becky Sharp and Scarlett O'Hara rolled into one, but frontal too, like Sex and the City's Samantha Jones ... this is a masterpiece. Don't wait for the film. Canada Post * When a book is this big it had better be good - this one is. Dive in. Enjoy! -- Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones * Irresistibly readable. -- Ruth Rendell * The most enjoyable novel I've read all year. Independent on Sunday * Unbelievably pleasurable. The Times * A big, sexy, bravura novel ... wildly entertaining. New York Times * Smelling salts at the ready, girls! Elle * I read a lot, but i don't think i've ever read a character so absolutely conjured as Sugar ...she is so complex, full of paradox. She is also very damaged. -- Romola Garai * [The Crimson Petal is] laced with sex, nudity and mordant wit. ... Sugar is one of the most fascinating heroines in modern fiction. -- Rosemary Goring Herald * Bafta-shaped brilliance from Auntie's Ye Olden Filthe drawer. Guardian * Astonishing. Good Book Guide * The first pages have to be among the most seductive I've read Clare English
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