Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

fingersmithDo you think me good?

Maud Lilly, a central character, asks this question of herself and others in Sarah Waters’ novel, Fingersmith. It’s a question I continue to ask myself of the book after having finished it.

I wanted to love this book. It’s a historical crime novel, set in England. It’s filled with rogues and criminals and intrigue.  Raised in a den of toughs and “sharpers,” Sue Trinder’s a human secret — a pawn in a long game meant to extract a fortune.

Do you think me good?

Considering every character except the hapless yet pivotal knife boy, every single character is, at one point or another, given to ugly brutality. What bothered me most is the constant abject cruelty on the part of many of the characters.

Old man Lilly abuses his “niece” Maud, making her read pornography aloud to “gentlemen” visitors to Briar — a house aptly named as a container full of orneries adept at perpetrating human suffering. In turn, Maud physically and mentally abuses her ladies’ maid. Later, Maud allows Gentleman to disabuse the maid of her virtue. Lesser character John Vroom thinks nothing of decorating his girlfriend Dainty in blues and purples with regular beatings. He sports a coat of many dog pelts constructed from the skin of stolen pets. Mrs. Sucksby, the grand dame of perps, is the epicentre of the whole seething vortex of evil.

Art imitates life, yes and every single human is capable of ugly brutality, but I couldn’t help but long for someone truly good, who I could get behind and root for, above all others. Sue Trinder’s who you’ve got your money on as a reader and even she abuses the pathetic knife boy near to death.

Do you think me good?

A great portion of the novel is told twice, first from Sue’s point of view and then from Maud’s. The major plot twist aside, the pacing of the repetition is hard to plow through because it was clear to me how the book was to end. I’ll repeat myself. I really wanted to love this book. But if I were to answer Maud’s question, I’d have to say no, this book wasn’t for me.

–March, 2016

The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin

kingdomofgodscover.jpg Can a brutal, elitist, entrenched ruling race change for the good? Read The Kingdom of Gods — the third instalment in N.K. Jemisin’s excellent Inheritance Trilogy and find out.

Book three follows Sieh, eldest godling of Nahadoth, Itempas, and Enefa. Sieh, the god of childhood — mischief-making eternal boy extraordinaire — is aging, and no one knows why. Does his shocking transformation signal the end, or a new beginning?

The Kingdom of Gods explores antithetical pairs: love and loneliness, loyalty and betrayal,  vengeance and mercy, and honesty and corruption. What I loved about this book is that it shows us that we don’t have to repeat the negative patterns and cycles entrenched in our so-called natures. Once you comprehend your true nature you can use that strength to evolve, to create a new, positive cycle. Yes, sometimes it takes surrender, self-sacrifice, and relinquishing control, but nothing worth having is ever easy.

The Kingdom of Gods shows us we can embrace differences like race and gender provided you transcend mere tolerance and acceptance to get to mutual respect.  After all, as Sieh says, “Life is never only one thing.”

All these weighty themes and a magical realm not unlike our own? Fascinating, complex, wonderfully flawed characters? A delightful, loyal sun-pet given to endearing tantrums worn about the neck of a godling?  Yes, please. This is a meaty and satisfying read that deserves your time.

I read this book back to back, twice.

— November and December, 2015

Nazi book burning — the destruction of memory

With the emblematic book-burning in a square on Unter den Linden, opposite the University of Berlin, on the evening of io May, 1933, books became a specific target of the Nazis. Less than five months after Hitler became chancellor, the new propaganda minister of the Reich, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, declared that the public burning of books by authors such as Heinrich Mann,
Stefan Zweig, Freud, Zola, Proust, Gide, Helen Keller and H.G. Wells allowed “the soul of the German people again to express itself. These flames not only illuminate the final end of an old era; they also light up the new.””‘ The new era proscribed the sale or circulation of thousands of books, in either shops or libraries, as well as the publishing of new ones. Volumes commonly kept on
sitting-room shelves because they were prestigious or entertaining became suddenly dangerous. Private holdings of the indexed books were prohibited; many books were confiscated and destroyed. Hundreds of Jewish libraries throughout Europe were burnt down, both personal collections and public treasure-houses.

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel