I finished a very interesting book today : 'The Crimson Petal and the White' by Michel Faber. I'm not going to write a book review or anything, but it's such an odd, gripping book that I feel I need to share my experience.
I normally don't do drastic experiments when I borrow/buy books. Meaning that I usually stick to authors I know. But when I saw this book at the BC library, I don't know I just felt like turning a few pages and skimming through.
The first chapter - even the first paragraph caught me off guard. It literary grips you and holds on to you with a fierce tenacity that doesn't lessen all through its 800+ pages.
800+ pages? You say. Don't you believe me?
Well. Look at these lines in the very first page and see for yourself -
"And yet you did not choose me blindly. Certain expectations were aroused. Let's not be coy: you were hoping I would satisfy all the desires you're too shy to name, or at least show you a good time...'"
Basically, the story is set in Victorian England. If you're already conjuring up images from Oliver Twist or Vanity Fair or some such novel - well trust me this is nothing like those. For one thing, this novel, though set in the 19th century, is narrated with a very 21st century mind set. And it is never judgmental. The characters are on their own and the reader is free to make her own mind. Another thing I loved about this book is that it makes you feel as if you're actually there in person - a witness to all the sights and sounds and smells - no matter how pleasant or horrible they are. It's as if you're in a 4-D movie..The story really does come alive.
That being said, there are certain elements that you would find familiar. There's Sugar - the heroine - who is a prostitute. There's Agnes - the mad wife . Henry - the social reformer. And lots of lace and corsets and smelling salts, dirty London streets and the 'season'.
There are several references to other literary works in that same era too. It was kind of funny when Sugar - who becomes the governess to her lover/employer's daughter- says to herself 'there won't be any Reader I married him in this story' (remember Jane Eyre? )
After finishing, I felt mystified about the book's title. I googled it and turns out Michel Faber got it from the following poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Now sleeps the crimson petal, now the white
Nor waves the cypress in the palace walk
Nor winks the gold fin in the porphyry font
The firefly wakens: waken thou with me.
Now droops the milkwhite peacock like a ghost,
And like a ghost she glimmers on to me.
Now lies the Earth all Danae to the stars,
And all thy heart lies open unto me.
Now slides the silent meteor on,
and leaves A shining furrow, as thy thoughts in me.
Now folds the lily all her sweetness up,
And slips into the bosom of the lake:
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou,
and slip Into my bosom and be lost in me.
Haunting and sensual isn't it? Personally, the 3rd and 4th stanzas are my favorites although I don't understand the 2nd one.
BTW, if you're interested, Reese Witherspoon actually sings this in the movie Vanity Fair.
After seeing it's namesake, I thought that Crimson petal alludes to Sugar and White to Agnes. It is after all their story. But then again maybe not. Sugar is, even though a 'street girl' constantly striving to be a 'lady'. And her conduct far outshines that of Agnes's - who is born a lady but does nothing spectacular.
And to finish off this post, what better way than the parting words of the very book:
"And to you also: goodbye. An abrupt parting, I know, but that's the way it always is, isn't it? You imagine you can make it last forever, then suddenly it's over. I'm glad you chose me, even so; I hope I satisfied all your desires, or at least showed you a good time."