Friday 25 November 2011
Devouring Books: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
I'm really glad I did keep on reading though, because, despite my abhorrence for the length of the chapters, they kind of ended up flying by, and I desperately wanted to find out what was going to happen to Nancy, and whether she was going to survive the huge adjustment from being an oyster girl (and, this might just be me being gross, but is that some kind of euphemism..?) in Whitstable to a star in London. And really, this is Nancy's story above all- she goes from being a West End star, to a rent boy (which is exactly what you think it is) to being a 'Tom' (apparently oldspeak for lesbian) and kind of, eventually, finding herself. It's a great coming of age story, and, as I've said, I really like Nancy, especially towards the end of the book- basically in the whole of the last section.
The first section of the book basically concerns Nancy's first throes of love, for another woman, Kitty Butler, who she follows to London and eventually (like, finally!) has a relationship with, this relationship being entirely secret, and pretty unfulfilling for poor Nancy. I kind of really hate Kitty, for the way she eventually treats Nancy, but, at the same time, I kind of get that she is essentially a slave to what is 'right and proper' in society, and that she doesn't want to be seen as defective, or wrong in some way. Still kind of hate her though. But the first section was all good and cool, and then the second section was filthy! And I don't mean that Nancy becomes a chimney sweep, if you know what I mean (wink wink, nudge nudge). Like seriously, though, Nancy dresses up as a boy, gives gentlemen a good time (wink wink, nudge nudge some more), and then gets taken in as a lady's sex slave (ok, servant. Although actually, I'm not sure if she gets paid in actual money... Hmmm.) Also, the term 'Monsieur Dildo' is used more than once, and now I will always think of dildos as being french.
In short, the entire second section of the book made me do this:
(Have you seen New Girl? I like it, it makes me laugh!)
And the third section is, in my opinion, the best of the entire book, Nancy learns how to be a grown up and the meaning of true love and it's all flowers and puppies and rainbows. And, I don't want to give anything away because I really think you should just read the book, but you have to watch out for Florence, because she is my absolute favourite character, a total socialist feminist and all round awesome person, and if she was real, I'd totally be her girlfriend. Probably. Maybe just her good friend.
Anyway, now that I've given you an outline of the story, and probably RUINED IT FOR YOU FOREVER (although there's not much I've told you that you couldn't have gotten from the blurb. Except maybe for Monsieur Dildo...) let's talk about the homophobia of book reviewers. This might be taking things a bit far, but on the copy I got from my library, there's a quote from the Independent on Sunday (Damn. That's actually quite a good paper. But the Daily Mail probably burnt this book for being naughty...) that says "Imagine Jeanette Winterson on a good day collaborating with Judith Butler to pen a Sapphic Moll Flanders." Now, I've read some Winterson, and I think some Butler as well, and neither of those are as immensely readable as Waters, and Winterson can't write anything without going off on a million tangents (much as I do like Oranges are the Only Fruit). I was kind of confused by this association, and, as it turns out, Sarah Waters kind of is too. According to Wikipedia, here's what she has to say about it: "Waters credits Winterson as an influence in lesbian writing, but states that the books [this and Oranges] are quite different and her writing is not like Winterson's at all. Waters suggests that reviewers have bracketed them together because Winterson was the only other lesbian author they could recall." Oh Sarah, you're so canny! And reviewers, seriously, Emma Donoghue? I think she's a lot more like Waters than Winterson, if you simply must compare her to a lesbian author, and even that's a stretch. For shame!
Anyway, Tipping the Velvet, it's good! Get over the long chapters and get yourself a copy, and revel in the filth of Section 2 if that's your kind of thing. Me, I'll stick to the romance and realism of Section 3, if you have no objections.