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The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Poll to rate The Crimson Petal and the White  

11 members have voted

  1. 1. How would you rate The Crimson Petal and the White?

    • 6/6 - Amongst my favourites
    • 5/6 - Excellent read: unputdownable
    • 4/6 - Very good read: hard to put down
    • 3/6 - Solid read; enjoyed coming back to it
    • 2/6 - Disappointing: might not have finished it
      0
    • 1/6 - Disliked it a lot: almost certainly unfinished


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It is assumed that you have read the book before reading posts in this thread, as the discussion might give away crucial points, and
the continuous use of spoiler tags might hinder fluent reading of posts
.

 

Welcome to May's book circle.  My apologies for the late posting, owing to my being away on a school residential for the past week or so!  I think we have book that is a tremendous stimulus for discussion, so look forward to reading everybody's input.  I've posted a few questions of my own to start with, but will add others later on, some from other sources.

 

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber.

 

Some questions to help discussion along:

 

1.  The book is a pretty massive volume.  Did you find it difficult or easy to read?  Indeed, was the length inherently important to the impact of the book?

 

2.  The book is a classic example of a story told by an omniscient narrator, one who makes it perfectly clear that they are directing what the reader 'sees' and 'hears'.  What, if any, impact did this deliberately intrusive style have on your reading?

 

3.  The depth of historical research is worn very clearly on the author's sleeve, with extensive detail in places.  Did you enjoy this, did it enhance your reading, or did you find it intrusive?  To what extent did it affect the story?

 

4.  The theme for this month was 'The Great Wen' - books that included London as a character in its own right.  Did Faber achieve this.  If so, in what way(s), and if not, what prevented London fulfilling this role?  How has your impression of Victorian London been influenced, if at all?

 

5.  What did you think of the characters?

 

6.  What are your feelings/views on the (at least to me!) very surprising ending? 

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I'm only about 65% through it so I shall refrain from answering the questions until I have finished.

 

This is a re-read for me, but I have to admit I've forgotten how it ends so I'm a bit intrigued that you say it is surprising. I'm enjoying it as much the second time around, but it is a long and complex read.

 

I shall comment more once I finish it. :smile:

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Look forward to your comments bobblybear.  I finished this a couple of weeks ago, but rather than leading off with my views, I'd rather see what others make of it, particularly those who voted for it!  In the meantime, suffice to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it (although I did think it needed a bit of trimming - but only a bit!) and am in actual fact glad it was chosen - I'm not sure if I would have ever got around to it otherwise, and am so glad that I did!

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I'm sorry to say that I stopped reading, first at 20%, then decided I must soldier on and managed to 25%.  That was it for me.

 

Omniscient narrator, yes.  But the style of narration totally took me out of the story every two sentences, so much so that I could not recover from it.  I disliked the rather cold and abrupt manner in which some events were told, especially the ones of a sexual nature. I could find no redemptive features to build any sort of rapport with any character.

 

Just not my cuppa.  It is rare I'd give a minus star rating to a novel, but this would be one.

 

I'm sorry willoyd, I wish I could contribute something positive.

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I read it and I really loved it!! But I haven't answered the questions yet because I can't axpress what I want to say in another language. I'm not that good in English, I'm still learning, thanks to you all. But I copied the questions and I'm answering to them. Be patient, I will post them quite soon.

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I'm sorry willoyd, I wish I could contribute something positive.

Apology completely unnecessary; it's far more interesting when people disagree about a book.

I had completed a detailed response to the questions to go with this, but when I clicked the post button, it deleted the lot, and I haven't got the energy to retype it out tonight, so will wait for another evening. it's happened once or twice before, and am a bit fed up that almost half an hour's work has just evaporated. Grrrrrr!

Edited by willoyd

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I read this book about two and a half years ago, so I'm answering these questions from memory, referring back to the book and my original review when necessary, but these thoughts are mostly from my memory of the book, which is still strong in my mind.

 

1. The book is a pretty massive volume.  Did you find it difficult or easy to read?  Indeed, was the length inherently important to the impact of the book?

 

I have to say, I found it a very easy read.  I first bought the original paperback version (before the television adaptation found its way onto the cover), and although the book itself was beautiful - I loved the paper, the typeface and the layout - it was a bit unwieldy as it was so large, so instead I downloaded it onto an ereader.  Now that wasn't cheap, but after reading the first chapter, I knew I wanted for read it so I was happy with the extra cost.  Once I did start reading it, I actually had to ration myself to a chapter a day, as I didn't want to rush it and felt that it was a book to be savoured.  I think, by the end, I felt that the length of the book did add to the impact of the book, as it allowed for the rich details of setting, character and plot to develop and come to life for me.

 

 

2. The book is a classic example of a story told by an omniscient narrator, one who makes it perfectly clear that they are directing what the reader 'sees' and 'hears'.  What, if any, impact did this deliberately intrusive style have on your reading?

 

For me, the style of narration very much added to the feeling of having the story read to me, rather than me reading it, if that makes sense?  I felt it added to the reading experience, and thought that it suited the period of the book, giving it the sense of a text having been written contemporarily to the story rather than as an historical piece.  I've only read a couple of Dickens short stories, but from what I have read, and what I know of his other works, it does feel as though the author was attempting to write in with a similar style, but writing today, had more freedom to bring the detail to the seedier side of society that Dickens and his contemporaries would never have been allowed to publish.

 

3. The depth of historical research is worn very clearly on the author's sleeve, with extensive detail in places.  Did you enjoy this, did it enhance your reading, or did you find it intrusive?  To what extent did it affect the story?

 

Oh, I absolutely enjoyed it!  That was one of the many things in its favour, as the pictures painted by the words made it easy to visualise, smell, taste and feel the world created by the author, bringing it to life and making it a sensory experience.

 

4. The theme for this month was 'The Great Wen' - books that included London as a character in its own right.  Did Faber achieve this.  If so, in what way(s), and if not, what prevented London fulfilling this role?  How has your impression of Victorian London been influenced, if at all?

 

London was certainly one of the main characters for me.  I've sort of answered it in the previous question, as Faber uses the senses to make London a character itself, particularly in the opening chapters, with the descriptions of the houses, the transport, the streets, the materials used in manufacture, decoration and clothing alongside showing the class system, and where each individual fits into this hierarchical society.  No sense is left out, and when you have that much knowledge of anything, be it person, house, city or country, that must make it a character within the story for me.

 

5.  What did you think of the characters?

This is what I wrote in my review at the time, "the overall glory of this epic book, is the wealth of characters. No character is too small or insignificant not to warrant a colourful description, from the larger secondary characters of, for example, William's brother, Henry, with his tortured goodness, to his shallow, hedonistic friends, Bodley and Ashwell, to the calculating servant, Cheeseman."

 

 

6.  What are your feelings/views on the (at least to me!) very surprising ending?

 

Again, this is taken from my review at the time, "the end comes quite suddenly, and although you don't really get a resolution for the characters, this felt right, as no-one's life should be able to have all its loose ends tied up nicely, and after spending so long with these people, I was actually quite glad to be able to think for myself where their lives would take them next."

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This is one of my favorite books, I gave a copy to my cousin as we have very similar reading tastes and she hated it, so I know it can come of in very different ways. I may have to think over some of the questions further but I will start with what jumps to mind right away. 

 

 

1.  The book is a pretty massive volume.  Did you find it difficult or easy to read?  Indeed, was the length inherently important to the impact of the book? It was a large book and yet it went by quite easily for me as it took me up completely into the story and I don't know if a shorter version would of been able to do that as well.

 

2.  The book is a classic example of a story told by an omniscient narrator, one who makes it perfectly clear that they are directing what the reader 'sees' and 'hears'.  What, if any, impact did this deliberately intrusive style have on your reading? The narration style went well with the story, I think it set the right tone, almost like a tour guide to another time & place. 

 

3.  The depth of historical research is worn very clearly on the author's sleeve, with extensive detail in places.  Did you enjoy this, did it enhance your reading, or did you find it intrusive?  To what extent did it affect the story? Didn't it take Faber 20 years to research and write this book,  I think it all shows really well and was completely worth the effort he put in.

 

4.  The theme for this month was 'The Great Wen' - books that included London as a character in its own right.  Did Faber achieve this.  If so, in what way(s), and if not, what prevented London fulfilling this role?  How has your impression of Victorian London been influenced, if at all?  London was a huge character in the book, it could not be removed and be the same story or as good.

Ooops, I have to go but I will come back tomorrow to finish this, sorry :(

5.  What did you think of the characters?

 

6.  What are your feelings/views on the (at least to me!) very surprising ending? 

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1.  The book is a pretty massive volume.  Did you find it difficult or easy to read?  Indeed, was the length inherently important to the impact of the book?

Easy.  Really easy.  In fact, I was surprised how quickly and easily I got through it, it slipped down without the slightest murmur.  And it needed some length for space to cover what he covered.  I have to admit a certain feeling of longeurs in the second half - after Sugar became the governess - and felt that stronger editing would have helped here, but aside from that, the length of the book was an inherent characteristic that I would be reluctant to see lost.


2.  The book is a classic example of a story told by an omniscient narrator, one who makes it perfectly clear that they are directing what the reader 'sees' and 'hears'.  What, if any, impact did this deliberately intrusive style have on your reading?

Again, I think the omniscient narrative style was an important element,in particular enabling the author to more easily show what characters are thinking.  Characters thus become more sympathetic, especially in enabling us to understand more readily why they have done something they have, even if against what we, the readers, would prefer seeing happen.  That ability to see inside the thinking of characters is essential in the author's own development of those same characters. 

The author is also better able to control what we 'see' and 'hear' and focus our minds on what he thinks is important. 

 

3.  The depth of historical research is worn very clearly on the author's sleeve, with extensive detail in places.  Did you enjoy this,  Did it enhance your reading, or did you find it intrusive?  To what extent did it affect the story?

Yes I did, very much so.  indeed the research very strongly grounded the book in its time and place, and for me that's almost more important than the plot!  Without that all, the book would have been half or even less t he value.


4.  The theme for this month was 'The Great Wen' - books that included London as a character in its own right.  Did Faber achieve this.  If so, in what way(s), and if not, what prevented London fulfilling this role?  How has your impression of Victorian London been influenced, if at all?

Certainly he did - much to my relief!  And that's where his research paid dividends.  What I particularly enjoyed was the contrast between the squalor of Soho and the development of the more upmarket settings in Notting Hill.  Faber thus managed to provide a portrait of different aspects of London to give us a much fuller picture. 

 

6   What are your feelings/views on the (at least to me!) very surprising ending?

At the time it took me completely by surprise, and left me somewhat irritated.  But the more I sit on it, the more I'm beginning to appreciate it, along the lines outline by chesilbeach - life goes on and a book is merely a time constrained snapshot.  But I would like to know what the author thinks happened next.....!

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Great questions!

 

1.  The book is a pretty massive volume.  Did you find it difficult or easy to read?  Indeed, was the length inherently important to the impact of the book?

I found the book easier to read than I thought at first. During reading, there were some oldy-woldy words that I had to look up or ask my boyfriend what they meant. I didn't find it as easy to read as many easier books such as 'chick-lit' books, but overall it was a lot less complicated than I thought it'd be. I put off reading this book until it became the book club read, because I was intimidated by its size and subject.

 

2.  The book is a classic example of a story told by an omniscient narrator, one who makes it perfectly clear that they are directing what the reader 'sees' and 'hears'.  What, if any, impact did this deliberately intrusive style have on your reading?

I thought the style was unique, I haven't read many books like this (unless they're children's books). I certainly wouldn't want it in most of my books, but in this case it gave the book a unique voice. It made it feel a bit more like a movie (I have the BBC adaption which I plan to watch shortly). I liked that you learned about several characters and what they thought of things.

 

3.  The depth of historical research is worn very clearly on the author's sleeve, with extensive detail in places.  Did you enjoy this, did it enhance your reading, or did you find it intrusive?  To what extent did it affect the story?

I loved it! The extra detail really brought the story alive for me.

 

4.  The theme for this month was 'The Great Wen' - books that included London as a character in its own right.  Did Faber achieve this.  If so, in what way(s), and if not, what prevented London fulfilling this role?  How has your impression of Victorian London been influenced, if at all?

I haven't read a lot of books that play in this time period yet in this locale (mainly books that are in modern day London) and I found it very interesting, to hear about ie. the different classes, shops and districts. I don't really have much to compare it with as I haven't read any other books that play in Victorian London.

 

5.  What did you think of the characters?

I loved Sugar. She's by far my favourite. I love strong, female characters and she certainly fits the bill. She's strong (mentally), intelligent, and knowledgable. I felt symphaty for William in the beginning but later on in the story I didn't like some of the decisions he made. The other characters were nice too, though I liked some more than others.

 

6.  What are your feelings/views on the (at least to me!) very surprising ending?

I thought the ending was very surprising. I like it a lot. It was a nice time to stop the story. Like others, I would like to know what happens next.

 

Here are some other thoughts:

- The book has a few pacing problems but despite this I wanted to keep on reading to find out what happened next. It was a bit slow in the middle, but towards the end I really wanted to know what'd happen!

- Something that happens near the later parts of the book, I was expecting for a while.

 

In my version of the book, there are some discussion questions at the end. Would anyone be interested if I posted them or is no one bothered? I'm not too bothered either way, some of them I'm not sure I could answer, but if anyone's interested I'd happily type them and we could discuss them (provided this is not illegal to do so).

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Great questions!

Thank you, and thanks for your responses- I can't disagree with them (which doesn't make for good discussion I know!).

In my version of the book, there are some discussion questions at the end. Would anyone be interested if I posted them or is no one bothered? I'm not too bothered either way, some of them I'm not sure I could answer, but if anyone's interested I'd happily type them and we could discuss them (provided this is not illegal to do so).

Please do. The more grist to the mill, the better. I don't think there would be any problem legally.

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Sure :).

 

Here are the discussion questions, to be found in Michel Faber - The Crimson Petal and the White, ISBN: 9780857860019, Canongate, 2011

 

 

1. The novel's title implies the distinction between virtue and immorality. In your opinion, who are the sinister characters in the book? Who are the heroes and heroines?

 

2.  What makes the late nineteenth century such an appropriate time period for this narrative? How might the storyline have played out in the twenty-first century?

 

3. Temptation and cravings fuel much of the novel's plot. By your own standards, are the characters shockingly lacking in self-control? Or do you feel they cope well in the circumstances?

 

4. Do you detect any common denominator among the novel's female characters (especially Sugar, Agnes, Mrs. Fox and Mrs. Castaway) in spite of their seemingly disparate motivations?

 

5. William recieves nearly constant assistance from various hired women. In what way is Sugar's subservience different from that of the other servants, both before and after she becomes Sophie's governess?

 

6. The Crimson Petal and the White contains dozens of religious references, including Sugar's being mistaken for an angel, Agnes's superstituous hunger for Catholicism, The Rescue Society's moral mission, the radical proposals in The Efficacy of Prayer and debates about creatonism. Is religion harmful or benificial to the characters in this novel?

 

7. The theme of cleanliness versus filth pervades the novel, with William's products nearly comprising an additional character. Considering the fact that even the upper-crust residents of Notting Hill had to do without indoor plumbing, what is the effect of these details about ablutions?

 

8. Critics have compared Michel Faber to many literary lions, ranging from Charles Dickens to Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Franzen. In what ways does literature appear to have evolved over the past two centuries?

 

9. How does Michel Faber keep the reader hooked and entertained throughout a lenghty epic? Did the devices work for you?

 

10. Does any authentic love occur in the novel? Are Sugar and William in love?

 

11. WIlliam's pious brother is the extreme opposite of Ashwell and Bodley. Do these minor male characters in any way reflect aspects of William's persona? Do you believe that Ashwell and Bodley were merely included for comic relief? Discuss the irony of Henry's death.

 

12. The characets in The Crimson Petal and the White live under the shroud of considerable misinformation, including Doctor Curlew's inability to diagnose Agnes's brain tumor and Sugar's rudimentary birth-control methods. Would modern medicine have kept their lives trouble-free?

 

13. Discuss Sugar's transformation from no-nonsense prostitute to maternal romantic. What role did the ironically named Priory Close location play in this transformation? What choices would you have made had you been born into Sugar's circumstances?

 

14. For all its Victorian trappings, The Crimson Petal and the White also showcases some expert postmodern features, such as a narrator who frequently reminds us that we are reading a novel - his novel - and that he will decide which point of view we receive in each scene. In what way does this narrator act as a kind of literary seducer, luring us to follow him to the very end? How do the novels within the novel (Sugar's sadistic bodice-ripper, and Agnes's imaginative diaries) affect your reading experience?

 

15. The novel ends by posing a terrific 'what-if'. Speculate about the futures of Sophie and Sugar. Why do you suppose the author chose to give the closing line to Caroline? What might this suggest about William's fate?

 

I'll make a new post with my thoughts on these sometime later.

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Weirdness...I received a notification of a post on this thread, but there is nothing here. 

 

What happened to it?  Was it removed for some reason? 

I googled the link the poster,  Jenisa provided, but it seemed to be a travel blog in the UK.  Norton had a green (approval) mark next to it, so it was a good link.  But I saw nothing about books there.

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1.  The book is a pretty massive volume.  Did you find it difficult or easy to read?  Indeed, was the length inherently important to the impact of the book?

 

Personally, I really enjoyed the book, and I got through it in about two weeks, despite having no reading time at all at the moment! (It will be better come June and the summer holidays). I found it really easy to pick the book up and I was keen to keep reading. The length didn't feel prohibitive, but I did feel it dragged a little after the halfway mark (specifically once Sugar move into the Rackham household, and I felt that bit could have been shortened). On the whole though, Faber takes us on a whirlwind journey with plenty packed into 900 pages (my kindle edition!) and I don't think the book would have had the same effect if it had been markedly shorter.

 

2.  The book is a classic example of a story told by an omniscient narrator, one who makes it perfectly clear that they are directing what the reader 'sees' and 'hears'.  What, if any, impact did this deliberately intrusive style have on your reading?

 

I didn't find any issues with the style at all, although I know others did. It felt like a nice quirk, although occasionally it did "pull me out of" the world into which I had sunk almost to be reminded that it was fiction! If that makes any sense...

 

3.  The depth of historical research is worn very clearly on the author's sleeve, with extensive detail in places.  Did you enjoy this, did it enhance your reading, or did you find it intrusive?  To what extent did it affect the story?

 

I love historical detail - but then I did a history degree and love reading non fiction! Personally, I find it more irritating if the research hasn't been done, and mistakes are obvious.

 

4.  The theme for this month was 'The Great Wen' - books that included London as a character in its own right.  Did Faber achieve this.  If so, in what way(s), and if not, what prevented London fulfilling this role?  How has your impression of Victorian London been influenced, if at all?

 

I thought Faber achieved this - he really made the city come alive for me (and I'm not keen on the modern day version but love reading about past years there!). The descriptions were vivid without feeling like they were hampering the plot.

 

5.  What did you think of the characters?

 

Well, I found William Rackham a bit of a turd to be honest ;) I loved the character of Sugar initially but went off her as the story progressed, although that didn't affect my enjoyment. As for Agnes, I thought she needed a big hug, but I found it a bit of a stretch that a woman could get to that age, give birth, and be unaware of periods!

 

6.  What are your feelings/views on the (at least to me!) very surprising ending? 

 

Really surprising for me too. I would have liked to know what happened next - and whether anyone ever found Agnes (including herself).

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That could have been my set of comments, our views are so similar!  I'm  glad (if that is the right sentiment!) that somebody else also found that section dragged a bit.  It did seem to take a bit of winding up again, and then the last hundred pages or so got quite frenetic!

 

Thanks for the extra questions, Athena.  I have to admit, I came across some/most of them whilst researching what questions to set, but equally have to admit that I didn't have a clue how to answer most of them!  A few did seem somewhat contrived (maybe because the writer was trying to think of something a bit different to the usual?).  The one question that did raise an issue that engaged me was the presence of Ashwell and Bodley.  I did wonder if they were going to be the vehicle by which Sugar was unmasked (especially given she'd retained her distinctive name), and was surprised to find them petering out fairly innocuously. 

 

As to Caroline being given the closing line, I thought that was simply the writer closing out full circle - finishing with the person he started with.  I don't think it said anything about William's fate at all.  This applied to several of the questions -  I don't think the line of the questions featured in the author's mind, rather in the setter's mind.

Edited by willoyd

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Are you all aware that there is a collection of stories by Faber called The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories?  It has some stories inspired by or in the same setting as the original book, plus follows on the stories of some of the characters too.

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That could have been my set of comments, our views are so similar!  I'm  glad (if that is the right sentiment!) that somebody else also found that section dragged a bit.  It did seem to take a bit of winding up again, and then the last hundred pages or so got quite frenetic!.

I agree again! I raced through to get to the ending, and then it all finished rather suddenly!

 

I really liked the character of Caroline - I would have liked to have stuck with her for a little longer at the start and I was glad she rejoined us later.

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As to Caroline being given the closing line, I thought that was simply the writer closing out full circle - finishing with the person he started with.

x

I think the same thing.

 

Are you all aware that there is a collection of stories by Faber called The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories?  It has some stories inspired by or in the same setting as the original book, plus follows on the stories of some of the characters too.

x

It's on my wishlist, has anyone read it and if so, is it any good?

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x

It's on my wishlist, has anyone read it and if so, is it any good?

No - but just bought it in Kindle format! Thanks for the tip Claire. Edited by willoyd

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I had enjoyed The Crimson Petal and the White a few years ago, and rushed to read The Apple afterwards.  I actually wished I hadn't, though, and had just left things to my imagination.  It will be interesting to see what others think after they have read it :)

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I have read The Apple - here's what I said about it at the time:

 

The short stories didn't win me over as much as the novel did. I enjoyed them but I just didn't get the same sense of period and place which the novel allowed by to immerse myself in. Having said that, the final story in the collection was a triumph. Seemingly unrelated to the original book, the young narrator gradually reveals the connection, and the continuing life story of one of the Crimson Petal characters. Although describing a different time, it again captures the London of the period, and was a wholly satisfying story.

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I just finished this this morning, and I will add my thoughts without reading through the posts:

 

1.  The book is a pretty massive volume.  Did you find it difficult or easy to read?  Indeed, was the length inherently important to the impact of the book?

 

I found it very easy to read regardless of the length; the only reason it took me so long was due to exams I had this month. Other than that, I'm sure I would have finished it a lot earlier. It was also a re-read for me, but I recall whizzing through it the first time I read it, due to my sheer enjoyment of it.

 

Because the characters went through so many significant changes (Sugar's rise and William's downfall), I think the length was necessary. There wasn't too much filler, though in a way the book indulged itself in quite a few characters that weren't entirely necessary, but still added depth to the story.


2.  The book is a classic example of a story told by an omniscient narrator, one who makes it perfectly clear that they are directing what the reader 'sees' and 'hears'.  What, if any, impact did this deliberately intrusive style have on your reading?

 

I liked it because it was so unusual. I thought it was very effective at introducing the story, first via Caroline, and then the narrator tapered off and only re-appeared in short pieces, until the end. It was a handy tactic in explaining Agnes' behaviour for example. I wonder how they would have explained it without the narrator, and all the characters remaining unaware.


3.  The depth of historical research is worn very clearly on the author's sleeve, with extensive detail in places.  Did you enjoy this, did it enhance your reading, or did you find it intrusive?  To what extent did it affect the story?

 

No, I thought it added a lot to the story, and was quite graphic in areas. Actually I found the characters' behaviour and speech more detailed than the 'historical research' part of it.


4.  The theme for this month was 'The Great Wen' - books that included London as a character in its own right.  Did Faber achieve this.  If so, in what way(s), and if not, what prevented London fulfilling this role?  How has your impression of Victorian London been influenced, if at all?

 

I thought London was described brilliantly in the beginning chapters, and I was a bit relieved because when I nominated the book I knew it was set in London, but couldn't remember how much of London was described in detail. Because a lot of the book described the under-belly of Victorian London, with the prostitutes, etc, I think it was necessarily graphic in describing the harshness of the times and the poverty that they had to live in. It's pretty much how I imagine Victorian London to be, and there was no sugar-coating by the author. They had it tough, back then.

 

5.  What did you think of the characters?

 

I loved Sugar, and really grew to admire her throughout the story. Her mother, Mrs Castaway was vile piece of ****, who wanted to destroy her, and I was really hoping Sugar would overcome all that. I thought the way she was described was fascinating with her dry - almost white - flaky lips, and tiger striped skin. Yet, she was considered so appealing, despite being described as not very conventionally attractive.

 

William Rackham was a weak-willed pathetic character, who I really disliked by the end of the story. Both for his treatment of Sophie and his treatment of Sugar.

 

Agnes' behaviour was understood by the reader (due to the narrator), but understandably diagnosed as some kind of female hysteria. Was it definitely Agnes' body that was found in the river (?), because William wasn't sure it was her body. I suppose ultimately she was doomed, but I was bit uncertain how she met her fate.

 

6.  What are your feelings/views on the (at least to me!) very surprising ending?

 

The ending was unusual, but fitting and I felt a sense of relief for Sophie whom otherwise I'm sure would have little future. I think William ended up losing everything, while Sugar and Sophie could have a chance of building a future for themselves. It was very selfless of Sugar to take Sophie away; even though she only ever had to think about herself, she cared enough to give Sophie a chance at a better life.

 

Question of my own:

 

What do you think is the significant of the title? Who or what are 'the crimson' and 'the white'? There were numerous references to those two words in the same sentence - as a description of flesh, and a handkerchief soaked in blood, or flower petals. I guess they are a method of describing contrasts, but wasn't quite sure.

 

 

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But the style of narration totally took me out of the story every two sentences, so much so that I could not recover from it.  I disliked the rather cold and abrupt manner in which some events were told, especially the ones of a sexual nature. I could find no redemptive features to build any sort of rapport with any character.

 

I think that was very intentional. Amongst the prostitutes, it was all very matter-of-fact and nothing could shock them. I suppose it was intended to be written so completely devoid of emotion, for the prostitutes it was something they did day-in-day-out and didn't give any thought to.

 

 

I really liked the character of Caroline - I would have liked to have stuck with her for a little longer at the start and I was glad she rejoined us later.

 

I thought Caroline's story was very touching, and I was glad to see her reappear in the book as well. I think her story would make a good book on it's own.

 

Regarding the ending, I wasn't bothered by the abruptness of it. I suppose like others have said, it's just a slice of their lives, which will continue with or without us to witness it. I like that we can make up our own minds about Sugar and William. I'd like to think Sugar and Sophie managed to set up somewhere and make decent lives for themselves. As for William, I imagine he eventually lost his wealth, and his business and was left with nothing.

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I thought London was described brilliantly in the beginning chapters, and I was a bit relieved because when I nominated the book I knew it was set in London, but couldn't remember how much of London was described in detail.

I must admit, I did initially have my doubts when you nominated it, although its appearance on the Fictional Cities site laid those fears to rest. In the end, I thought it a perfect choice, even though I hadn't voted for it and was worried that I wouldn't get through it in time, and am really glad it made it to the top of the pile. One of those books I think I would probably never have quite got around to reading otherwise, and really underlined the value of book groups!

 

Question of my own:

What do you think is the significant of the title? Who or what are 'the crimson' and 'the white'? There were numerous references to those two words in the same sentence - as a description of flesh, and a handkerchief soaked in blood, or flower petals. I guess they are a method of describing contrasts, but wasn't quite sure.

The title is a quote from Tennyson, the arch-Victorian poet. I think they are the two women in William's life - Sugar the crimson, Agnes the white - the two sides to his and to Victorian life: the red underbelly versus the whiter than white facade that he maintains. This is coupled with the fact that petals are used in perfumery, and the ambivalent, even hypocritical, attitude of others (Henry and Emmeline both struggle to avoid submergence in the crimson in their endeavours to promote the white, ad there are indications that Emmeline's father indulges in abuse of his female patients, etc etc.). Edited by willoyd

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