Fingersmith is the first Sarah Waters book I've read, and I don't think it will be the last. I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to read it, it's been sat on my bookcase for years. I think what finally motivated me to pick it up was all the good reviews about The Little Stranger I've read, but feeling that perhaps I should read some of her earlier books first.
We start the story with Susan Trinder, a seventeen year old girl who was orphaned at birth and grew up under the care of Mrs Sucksby, in a den of thieves in 1860's London. Den of thieves is not really the right word but I can't think of another one. It makes it sound more sinister than it appears, at last in the first part of the story. It is portrayed as a loving, if unconventional family atmosphere, and Susan as a happy member of the family, although a thief. Mrs Sucksby also has a sideline in so called baby farming, where she takes children from unmarried or destitute mothers and passes them on to families who want them. When man known to the 'family' only as gentleman comes calling with a plan to make their fortune, it is Susan that is needed to make this plan work. What she must do is adopt a role as lady's maid ton a wealthy woman who 'gentleman' intends to marry and the commit to a madhouse to steal her fortune. Sue's role is to convince the slightly simple girl that marrying is the best thing for her.
This is the first part of the novel, encompassing Sue's reluctant agreement to do this, her account of her time with Maud and the eventual marriage and trip to the madhouse. And as far as plot summary, this about as far as I can go, because the twists from here on in are essential to the story and need to be a surprise. The next part of the story is told from the point of view of Maud, and is her take on the same events, then we are back to Sue, and then we finish with multiple viewpoints from both girls and Mrs Sucksby.
The two first parts of the story with the same events described from both Susan and Maud's viewpoint really make it clear that nothing is as it seems. Little things that seem obvious in Susan's narrative are then retold from Maud's viewpoint and put a totally different complexion on things. It was that that kept me reading(quite often late into the night. I couldn't put it down)
Suffice to say, nothing is as it seems, and that is probably the main thing I liked about this book. Everything is revealed in small doses, and you really have to pay close attention in the earlier parts of the book to get the twists at the end. But the twists are fantastic. I also liked the brooding Victorian atmosphere. Both the descriptions of lowlife London ad the more affluent, gothic mansion in the countryside. And the madhouse scenes were brilliantly evoked, the sense of despair was described perfectly.
I thought this was brilliant, and it's a shame I left it so long to read it. I'm looking forward to reading more Sarah Waters though, although I haven't decided which one yet. I do think I'd like to read some more of her earlier books before The Little Stranger though so I'll see which one presents itself first!