Author(s): Sarah WatersDownload
An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women’s ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London’s grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank’s murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by one apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own.
Some Reviews: 1471 in Goodreads.com
Sarah Waters, at this stage, must be the accepted queen of Victorian Gothic lesbian melodrama; not, I imagine, that there is much competition for this title, but I think it’s a deserved one nonetheless.
In many ways, the plot of Affinity is like that of the other work of Waters’ that I have read, Fingersmith. Crime and Victorian punishment, repression and sexuality and psychology, all feature heavily in both books. Affinity, however, is a much more satisfying novel for me. While it, too, hangs on some often surprising twists of coincidence, these twists are orchestrated by an intelligence that is much more subtle and convincing, to my mind, than the occurrences in Fingersmith (I found those to be much too Dickensian, and I loathe Dickens). And while, admittedly, I never came to feel terribly attached to and moved by Margaret and her plight – she was a little too detached, and her fate a little too obviously signposted – she was undoubtedly a well-drawn character.
The real achievement of the book, though, is the sense of period and atmosphere and mood it has. When I closed the book, I had the strongest desire to open all the windows in the room, because I needed sunlight and wind, after spending so long in the airless world that Waters created. It’s rare anymore that a book has that effect on me, so I do think that this is one that I will be re-reading and savouring.
I have said it before, I will say it again. I cannot fathom how Sarah Waters does it, how she can draw the reader into this entirely other world, this other period, time, place, complete immersion. Even something simple like the protagonist Miss Prior’s afternoon in The Spiritualists’ Reading Room instantly conceived for me a dim, smoky, velvet lined library where she learns the secrets of her true love/affinity’s case. Genius.
I honestly do not typically care for the paranormal stories, but under the guidance of Waters, a pretty great read. With the unexpected ending, I admit I did not like it, but then again, I guess it was good, in that way only great writers can have me appreciating an otherwise unacceptable 180. In my opinion, the author better have a damn good reason as well as some damn good transitioning with foreshadowing for these endings.
Selina Dawes. What a character. She had me good. I will say that. I guess I was not paying attention, so enraptured by Waters’ writing, I was. At least that is what I say. I feel like I should have seen it from a million miles away. Her story was very interesting, although I do wish there was more detail, more insight into her childhood. In fact, I felt like the center of the story told was quite intense, extremely well told, even a little long, but could have used more insight into “Miss Prior”/Aurora’s history, both before + after.
As for the Spiritualism, ghosts, seances, readings, etcetera, I actually really liked reading these aspects of the novel, appreciating Waters’ obvious research into the themes.
Oh, Sarah Waters, how I love thee.
During 80% of the book it felt more like a 3 stars, since I really was enjoying the setting, the well built atmosphere in Millbank prision, etc, but I didn’t really connect with the characters. I never liked Selina, and although I felt for Margaret and her difficulties to fit in structured Victorian London, I felt uncomfortable with her continuous nervousness. But the twist at the end upgraded it to 4 stars. It wasn’t really a surprise for me, since I saw it coming, but the ending just made it a better story.[I realized Selina was a liar, and I suspected very early Vigers was Ruth. I thought Mrs Jelf was part of the plan, not another victim of it. I am a skeptic, so I asked myself many times if I believed in the spirits in the story, and I could have buy the flowers and things that they supposedly brought, but the whole Peter Quick thing was too bizarre and I have the feeling Sarah Waters was a better writer than that. (hide spoiler)]
When I first finished this book, I rated it 4 stars because my head was still spinning from the very clever twists at the end. But now I come to review the book and it is very definitely a 5 star read for me.
This darkly gothic tale takes part in Victorian London and Waters’ writing really paints a vivid and stark portrait of what it must have been like living there, and in particular what life was like in a women’s prison.
When I started reading the first chapter, I thought I wasn’t going to like the book. The first chapter was written from the perspective of Selina, the spiritualist who had found herself locked up in prison after one person died and another was injured during a seance. Strangely, in this chapter, the & sign was used instead of the word “and” and for some reason it really disrupted my reading of the story. But then with chapter two, the writing style and POV was switched to that of Margaret, a Lady Visitor who attends the prison which Selina is incarcerated. Once the writing style changed, I was hooked (about 10 pages in). Selina has future chapters in the book and these are in that same style as the first chapter which frustrated me but as the book went on, I no longer noticed it as I was just swept up in the story.
Superb writing, building of suspense, setting the scene and ability to transport the reader in to that prison! Some truly creepy moments too and a blinding ending! I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
This is my first book by Waters and I am off to start Fingersmith now. I have added all her other books to my wishlist.
I’ve felt many different ways about Sarah Waters novels. The first I read – Tipping the Velvet – I loved. I got to the end and turned immediately back to the begining. Fingersmith I really enjoyed, The Night Watch I thought was ok and The Little Stranger I hated.
So who knew where I was to stand with Affinity? After all, my feelings on SW run the entire gauntlet. But I was excited when I realised I’d forgotten about this novel of hers and – happily! – I wasn’t disappointed.
I didn’t love it as much as Tipping the Velvet but I still really enjoyed this. Waters is a demon for a twist and although I had half worked it out – the gist but not all the details – I still found it enjoyable.
The thing about Affinity is that, for me at least, part of the problem is that you (me) WANT it to be true. This story of two woman – one a prison ‘lady visitor’ and the other a prisoner – who fall in love and hatch a psychic escape plan is both touching and ridiculous. But, God. Did I want it to be true!
And thst’s Waters’ talent, I think. I wanted no-one to be tricked – well, except me. I do so love a twist.
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