Book Review: Sarah Waters' Affinity

This isn't a real book review, because I don't feel like going into great detail about this book, or trying to be too smart about it. I've read a few other books by Sarah Water--I think? She has one called The Little Stranger (not to be confused with The Little Friend by Donna Tartt). I didn't finish Tipping the Velvet for some reason--that's her first book. Affinity is her second and both books, I think, are love stories between two women set in the early Victorian era.  I just quickly read a review about one of her books and the writer referred to her as the "lesbian Charles Dickens."

I suppose she does have a somewhat ornate style, but not like Dickens. You don't get long descriptions of characters and their noses or the jingling of keys on a lock, partially because the book is written as a diary--the diary of the central narrator (Margaret Prior) and the diary of her love interest, Selina Dawes. What a great name.

The story goes something like this: Margaret is a fragile, spinsterish woman whose father has recently died, and who is faced with a life alone with her mother. She's had one suicide attempt, but her mother saved her and didn't tell anyone that she attempted suicide (in those days, that was considered a crime and could land you in prison). Margaret is being treated with chloroform or laudanum or some other addictive drug that people in the olden days didn't realize was addictive. She decides to visit the women's prison nearby and quickly forms a bond with Selina  Dawes, this lovely prisoner whose incarcerated because she was a spiritualist and accused of shamming people.  Margaret is drawn to her and we learn that she has this predilection to fall in love with women and was in fact in love with the woman who married her brother. In those days,  same sex attraction was not discussed or considered anything but an abnormality, so Margaret is surprised when Selina seems to return her affection.

There are several incidents in the book where things happen where the reader becomes convinced too that Selina has some supernatural powers--she's able to have things appear in Margaret's room, and she knows private details that Margaret has never shared with anyone, except in her diary.  I liked all the details of the prison and that life, and the last fifty pages of the book, I had to stop myself from skipping forward to read the ending. I did that with Ian McEwan's last book, to my own dismay. So this time, I waited, reading in the car today until I got a headache and had to stop. Finally finished it in the coffee shop. A satisfying end--I worried that it would conclude with Margaret locked up in the prison or in an insane asylum, but it went a different way.

Next is a book by Kate Atkinson, who wrote one of the best book titles ever, Started Early, Took the Dog.