'Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you've read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether.'
'When I first caught your eye and you decided to come with me, you were probably thinking you would simply arrive and make yourself at home. Now that you're actually here, the air is bitterly cold, and you find yourself being led into complete darkness, stumbling on uneven ground, recognising nothing. Looking left and right, blinking against an icy wind, you realise you have entered an unknown street of unlit houses full of unknown people.'
Now, aren't you sucked in?
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber is, quite simply, a fabulous book. (It is a very long one, at over 800 pages, hence the reason I am still reading it, but this shouldn't put you off.)
I have to admit that I was, as hopefully now many more people will be, introduced to the story of Sugar, the delightfully enigmatic and quick-witted prostitute, by the excellent (though of course slightly abridged, as TV often has to be) BBC drama with Romola Garai that was aired back in April. We follow Sugar as she wades through the filth and grime of 19th century London and uses her charm and savvy to forge a path for herself towards the much coveted wealth and freedom that many of her own clients claim as their birthright. The narrative is unique and intense (as shown in the passage above) literally dragging you right into this dirty, dangerous world and this dirty, dangerous job ... forcing you to stalk the inhabitants of these slums as they about their daily business ... within a hair's breadth of the back of their grubby, disease-ridden necks......
**Shiver** This is just a brilliant book, possibly coming up closely next to Kafka on the Shore for Literary Relish's book of the year (so far.) It is also a beautiful object. The front cover is lovely to look at and all of the pages were so pristine and white and perfect and the font so lovely when it arrived that I did have a bit of a moment when this landed on my doorstep. Although it is essentially what lies inside a book that really counts, being able to pick up something that, before you read it, is in itself a lovely object, is a pleasure indeed. (I am of course referring to the book before I opened it/dropped it in the bath/shoved it in my handbag/smeared chocolate brownie on the spine, etc - post Lucy-trauma)
I will be finishing this book and reviewing in full shortly....