Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Tipped the velvet ? It sounds like something you might do in a theatre..."

Among my favourite writers, you won't find that many contemporaries (at least not yet, another goal of mine) but Sarah Waters means a great deal to me and holds a special place in my personal Pantheon. With four books published, we know this British writer has a gift for storytelling and none of her books has disappointed me in the least (I have yet to read Affinity). The first three, Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith, take place in a victorian London in which Sarah has fun bringing to life the subtext of gothic stories and by doing so leaves her imprint in a genre she revisits : madwomen in the attic, ghosts, desire, love, all this developed in a clear yet detailed and generous writing style, with wonderful characters. Sarah Waters is one of those few writers appreciated by critics (she was awarded numerous prestigious prizes) and casual readers alike - her books are based on impeccable techniques she masters particularly well, the plots are gripping and chilling and Wilkie Collins has nothing on her plot twists. Tipping the Velvet, for example, explores the world of the threatre : it's full of fun yet tortuous, between colourful and fresh scenes and a darker, smart side, a mix that makes this novel so unique. It is in this book that we meet Florence Banner, who is one of my favourite characters in literature. Affinity leads to us the Millbank Prison where a seer who evolves in one of the most important spiritualist circles, has just been locked in : it is the author's darkest novel, at the exact opposite of Tipping the Velvet, when Fingersmith could be placed in the middle. The writer is interested in what happens when women are confined to places where they can only rely on other women, where they can only betray other women. Often compared to Dickens, it is the other side of victorian novels Sarah Waters shows us - what happens between closed doors, the one closed on women in all British novels of the 19th century. What I also really enjoy about Sarah Waters is her social conscience and her female characters that are well-fleshed and developed. Her ideas, all in all : it's a great relief to be able to read a novel that knows how to keep the best of 19th century novels (a solid plot) when replacing darker aspects by real smiles and real ideas I can agree with. It's a complete experience to read a novel by Sarah Waters because her books are in all fields more than satisfactory.
Her first three books have been adapted to screen in adaptations that rank from good (Tipping the Velvet, Affinity) to excellent (Fingersmith) and The Night Watch, her last novel that takes place in World War II and after, different and yet even better in psychological analysis, will also be adapted for the BBC soon.
On June 4 2009, Sarah Waters will publish her new novel entitled The Little Stranger. Its summary is most intriguing :

In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his. Prepare yourself. From this wonderful writer who continues to astonish us, now comes a chilling ghost story.