Only A Novel

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Posted in Books, Fiction, lgbt, Literature, Reading, Review, Sarah Waters by onlyanovel on November 15, 2008

I remembered that comment of Arthur’s, that women’s books could only ever be journals of the heart. I think I thought that, in making my trips to Millbank, in writing of them here, I would somehow disprove or spite him. I thought that I could make my life into a book that had no life or love in it—a book that was only a catalogue, a kind of list. Now I can see that my heart has crept across these pages, after all. I can see the crooked passage of it, it grows firmer as the paper turns. It grows so firm at last, it spells a name—

Affinity
Sarah Waters is the prize-winning author of four novels of historical fiction with gay themes, three of them set in the Victorian era and one set during the second world war. Three of her novels—Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, and Affinity—have been adapted into film, the former two by the BBC. Her fourth novel, The Night Watch is in the process of being adapted into film as well. That’s four for four for Miss Waters. I think that she deserves a lot of credit for the promotion of gay-themed literature into the mainstream, and this she accomplished because she is an outstanding writer. The mainstream acceptance of her novels has less to do with the fact that their main characters are gay than the fact that these characters embody universal human conditions.

I could not speak of Affinity without enthusiasm. I thought it was brilliant. Reminiscent of the confounding plot twists in Fingersmith, the plot of Affinity deceives and surprises well. One peculiar aspect of this novel is how Miss Waters writes out dialogues—at many points, she altogether gets rid of quotation marks and new paragraphs to mark dialogue, without causing any confusion to the reader.

Set in late nineteenth century London, the story is that of Margaret Prior and Selina Dawes, two women who apparently have nothing in common except, perhaps, for their needs. Miss Prior is a lady from an affluent family who, as her charity work and to fill her time, makes regular visits to the women prisoners of Millbank Prison. Selina is among those in the prison, convicted for the part she played in a mysterious affair gone wrong. The third main character in the story is Millbank Prison itself, a bleak, looming structure, by the River Thames, of odours and echoes and endless passages where one could easily get lost, and which sets the perfect atmosphere for a brooding story which is delicately wrapped in a veil of mystery and otherworldliness. It is in this world that the threads of Miss Prior’s and Selina’s lives are slowly and intricately woven together. What would be the quality of those threads?

Affinity is about longing for a connection, about desiring to be an essential part of someone. It is about loneliness and vulnerability. From start to finish, these themes evoke overwhelming pathos. And by the end, reading Miss Waters’s last few paragraphs is an intense experience. I think those paragraphs are exquisite, and their poignant impression, if not their exact words, would be hard for me to forget.

 

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6 Responses

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  1. bookchronicle said, on November 18, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Good to hear Waters has another one out. I read Tipping the Velvet some years ago, and have Fingersmith on the stack for December.

  2. onlyanovel said, on November 18, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Hi BC. I think the sequence in which Waters’s novels were published is: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch. The only one I have not read is Tipping, but I’ve seen BBC’s adaptation. Fingersmith is one of my all-time favorite novels. I’m eager to read what you think about it.

  3. Arti said, on December 25, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Just a note to wish you a Merry Christmas and all the best for 2009! Looking forward to more of your reviews in the new year.

  4. […] I tried to convey my enthusiasm for Sarah Waters and her groundbreaking novels in my post about Affinity. Not long after I read Affinity, I naturally plunged headlong into The Night Watch. Since it is now […]

  5. Joe Snyder said, on December 22, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    First Of All, let me commend your uncloudedness on this subject. I am not an expert on this issue, but after learning your article, my understanding has developed substantially. Please permit me to grab your rss feed to stay in touch with any forthcoming updates. Complete job and will extend it on to friends and my website fans.

  6. estetik said, on April 8, 2011 at 12:57 am

    Hi BC. I think the sequence in which Waters’s novels were published is: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, Fingersmith, The Night Watch. The only one I have not read is Tipping, but I’ve seen BBC’s adaptation. Fingersmith is one of my all-time favorite novels. I’m eager to read what you think about it.
    tr..


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