Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

There are always novels that you envy people for not yet having read, for the pleasure they still have to come. Well, this is one. Long, dark, twisted and satisfying, it’s a fabulous piece of writing…and unforgettable experience.” Julie Myerson, Guardian

Fingersmith
was my choice for book club. As always, I deliberated endlessly over what to choose and wanted to pick something off my ‘to read’ shelf. Despite the book’s length, reviews had promised a page-turner and they were right.

Fingersmith
is a difficult book to talk about without giving anything away – there are more plot twists and deceptions packed into its 500 plus pages than any other book in recent memory.

Set in Victorian England, it concerns the life of Sue Trinder, who was orphaned at birth and  raised by Mrs Sucksby and her ‘family’ of fingersmiths or petty thieves. At 17, Sue is drawn into a plot to bilk Maud Lilly, another orphan who lives in a remote estate with her Uncle, out of her fortune. This plot and the effect it has on Sue’s life (and Maud’s as well) is told first from Sue’s point of view and then from Maud’s and it is intricate and filled with intrigue.

There are some Dickensian elements – Waters makes some social commentary, although not overtly, and there is melodrama galore- but, ultimately, Fingersmith is a highly satisfying read populated with intriguing characters and more chilling dips than a roller coaster.

Highly recommended!
Sarah Water’s Official Site

Read a Review
And another
Fingersmith Fever, a web site with…fanfiction!

MY QUESTIONS

1. What does this novel ultimately say about the relationship between morality and love?

2. Talk about the structure of the novel. Why does the author choose to tell Sue’s story first.

3. Is this a love story? Why or why not? Talk about the instances of love in the novel.

4. Fingersmith is told from two first person points of view- Sue’s and Maud’s. It also allows the authors to repeat the first part of the story- which may or may not work. Does it? Why or why not? And how does it change your feelings about the main characters?

5. Often times in books like this you see the trick before it happens and thus feel cheated. Which act of duplicity surprised you the most and why?

6. This book makes a perfect case for the argument of nature versus nurture. How are the characters shaped by their upbringing? Are they victims and if so, in what way? Who had the happier childhood?

7. Would this book be the same without the addition of the sexual feelings between the two main characters? Explain.

8. Fingersmith is often described as ‘crime fiction’ do you agree or disagree? Why.

9. There is one obvious reference to Dickens in this novel. Sue says “I remember seeing…how the world was made up: that it had bad Bill Sykeses in it, and good Mr. Ibbses; and Nancys, that might go either way. I thought how glad I was that I was already on the side that Nancy got to at last.—I mean, the good side, with sugar mice in.” In what other ways is this novel Dickensian?

10. Sue is brought up to think that her mother is hanged for murder. The book is so beautifully constructed that we don’t realize what an incredible case of foreshadowing this is. Were there any other instances in the book where you felt like you knew something was going to happen?

11. One critic asked if the book was too long? Do you think it was and if so- what would you have omitted about the book?

12. A fingersmith is a petty thief. Sue, makes a living as a fingersmith in London. Fingersmith may also refer to someone who has a mastered a skill involving the use of his or her hands. Maud is a secretary for her Uncle, Mr. Lilly. Hands play an important part in this story. Discuss.

13. Dickens was a very moralistic writer and his characters were rewarded or punished accordingly. In what way is Waters like Dickens? If you had to choose a villain, who would it be and why?

14. It would seem that Maud is very experienced given her ‘occupation’. How does her previous experience with sex compare to the actual thing?

15. Although we don’t realize it until the very end- why do you suppose that Mrs. Sucksby gave away her biological daughter rather than one of the babies she ‘farmed’?

Reading Guide


FOOD

Cranberry Chocolate Tart

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Cranberry Topping:
1/2 cup cranberry juice, divided
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 12-ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

Crust:
1 1/4 cups chocolate wafer cookie crumbs (made from about 6 1/2 ounces cookies, finely ground in processor)
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Mascarpone Filling:
1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese*
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup chilled whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Thin strips of crystallized ginger (optional garnish)
preparation
For cranberry topping:
Pour 1/4 cup cranberry juice into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until softened, 15 minutes. Combine 1/4 cup cranberry juice, cranberries, and next 5 ingredients in medium saucepan; bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Reduce heat to medium; simmer until cranberries are tender but still plump, 5 minutes. Strain into bowl; set cranberries aside. Add gelatin mixture to hot juice in bowl; stir until gelatin dissolves. Stir cranberries back into juice. Chill until cranberry mixture is cold and slightly thickened, at least 8 hours or overnight. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Stir chopped crystallized ginger into cranberry mixture.

For crust:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Combine chocolate wafer cookie crumbs, sugar, and salt in medium bowl; add 5 tablespoons melted butter and stir until crumbs feel moist when pressed together with fingertips, adding remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter if mixture is dry. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Bake chocolate crust until beginning to set and slightly crisp, pressing with spoon if crust puffs during baking, about 14 minutes. Transfer tart pan to rack and cool crust completely before filling.

For mascarpone filling:
Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients except ginger in medium bowl just until thick enough to spread (do not overbeat or mixture may curdle). Spread filling in cooled crust. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Spoon cranberry mixture evenly over mascarpone filling. Chill at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. Garnish with crystallized ginger strips, if desired. Cut tart into wedges and serve cold.

*An Italian cream cheese; sold at many supermarkets and at Italian markets.

Reduce heat to medium; simmer until cranberries are tender but still plump, 5 minutes. Strain into bowl; set cranberries aside. Add gelatin mixture to hot juice in bowl; stir until gelatin dissolves. Stir cranberries back into juice. Chill until cranberry mixture is cold and slightly thickened, at least 8 hours or overnight. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

Stir chopped crystallized ginger into cranberry mixture.

For crust:
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Combine chocolate wafer cookie crumbs, sugar, and salt in medium bowl; add 5 tablespoons melted butter and stir until crumbs feel moist when pressed together with fingertips, adding remaining 1 tablespoon melted butter if mixture is dry. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom and up sides of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Bake chocolate crust until beginning to set and slightly crisp, pressing with spoon if crust puffs during baking, about 14 minutes. Transfer tart pan to rack and cool crust completely before filling.

For mascarpone filling:
Using electric mixer, beat all ingredients except ginger in medium bowl just until thick enough to spread (do not overbeat or mixture may curdle). Spread filling in cooled crust. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Spoon cranberry mixture evenly over mascarpone filling. Chill at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours. Garnish with crystallized ginger strips, if desired. Cut tart into wedges and serve cold.

*An Italian cream cheese; sold at many supermarkets and at Italian markets.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s