Sue Trinder is an orphan raised by a group of thieves living in a house in London. Sue’s life is unusual but stable. Her foster mother takes in babies who stay a little while before be farmed out somewhere else. Sue is the exception. Mrs Sucksby keeps her close. The comings and goings of the London hooligans barely affect her. This is her life and her moral compass is dodgy at best. As she turns seventeen, she wonders if her life will ever change or will she just stay in the house of Mrs Sucksby forever.
Then Gentleman appears with a scheme straight out of a Wilkie Collins novel. He’ll marry some poor, naive heiress, stick her in an asylum, and claim all her money. He just needs Sue to pose as her maid to lead her to the slaughter. Sue is afraid to leave London for the back of nowhere but her family is depending on her. She’s unaware that she’s a pawn in a bizarre con game.
When I first started reading Fingersmith, I thought the plot was familiar. In fact, it could have been a rewrite of The Woman in White but with the point of view being from the thieves’ side. However, this is a Sarah Waters novel, so of course the plot turns ass over tea kettle about halfway through. At this time, the point of view switches to the other leading lady and the reader hears a very different story. Up until this point I wondered if this book was going anywhere; it was slow.
The girls’ motivations in Fingersmith were much more understandable to me than Nan’s in Tipping the Velvet. Nan just came off as a brat. These girls do the things they do out of fear and desperation or because they were raised that way. There is definite improvement in character development by Waters.
As always, Waters creates beautiful prose, even if the plot gets a little Days of Our Lives at times. The scenes at the estate of Briar were particularly Victorian Gothic with damsels in distress and creepy uncles. Yikes, the uncle. His, um, career was like something from a pervier Dickens novel.
Fingersmith ended much better than it began. I found it more enjoyable than Tipping the Velvet but The Little Stranger is still my favorite.