We have been busy, busy, busy over here. Lots of running through sprinklers and visiting zoos and attending baseball games, not to mention swimming lessons, cookouts and neighborhood festivals. Summer is definitely here. And while all of that has been wonderful, being so active and outdoorsy is really cutting into my reading time. I'm ready to fall asleep around 9 p.m., which is just sad. However, if you are looking for books that will keep you awake, turning the pages long past the time when your brain was still functioning, look no further than something by Sarah Waters.
I read Fingersmith a couple of weeks ago (which I think is her third or fourth book), and this week I read Tipping the Velvet. I'm going to be honest here people, this book is straight up about sex. Love, lust, longing, and very graphic lesbian sex. There are other themes; classism and women's rights predominantly, but this book is absolutely about first love and desire. I didn't know anything about Sarah Waters before I read either book--I had just seen Fingersmith mentioned more than once on other book blogs as a great read. So I was unprepared for Tipping the Velvet. This is perhaps not the book you want to read on your lunch break at work, sitting near curious coworkers.
Tipping the Velvet is set in the 1880s and 1890s in England. Nancy Astley, an 18-year old living at home with her parents and siblings, works at her parent's seaside restaurant as an oyster girl in Whitstable. She and her sister Alice love nothing more than taking the train to Canterbury on a Saturday night to watch the shows at the music hall. There she falls in love with one of the performers, a "masher" named Kitty Butler. Kitty sings and dances in drag, which was apparently the height of fashion and daring at the time. Nancy and Kitty strike up a friendship, and Nancy leaves her family for London, to follow Kitty and help her in her stage career as her dresser.
The time Kitty and Nancy, or Nan, as she becomes known, spend together in London was my favorite part of the book. Waters does a wonderful job describing the music hall scene in the 1880s. I love books about Victorian England and this one ranks among the best for me, in terms of making you really feel like you are there. And, it has the bonus of describing a life that was completely unknown to me--the gender bending, lesbian, music hall artist.
Nan and Kitty live happily for a time, fall in love, perform together on stage, and become fairly rich. But then of course bad things happen and they are torn apart. This begins the series of hard times for Nancy, which last for much of the rest of the book. I'm not going to go into detail about this second half of the book, other than to say that I found it fairly unbelievable (although I bet Waters has done her research and the events are based on things that really happened), and not as interesting as the first half of the book. Although there are some pretty hot sex scenes, I'm not going to lie.
Overall, I liked this book quite a bit. It's definitely a page turner, and was full of fascinating period detail, interesting characters, and did I mention lots of sex? I much preferred Fingersmith, but I'm glad that I read this one too. Next up in my Sarah Waters summer is Affinity. I'll let you know what I think!