I first read this book in 2004, at a time when I was making a transition in my life from being a research scientist to a writer. I remember so clearly reading that first page. By the time I got to the words at the end of the first paragraph, I was hooked. Here is that first paragraph:
“My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder. People called me Sue. I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date, and took my birthday at Christmas. I believe I am an orphan. My mother I know is daed. But I never saw her, she was nothing to me. I was Mrs. Sucksby’s child if I was anyone’s; and for father I had Mr. Ibbs, who kept the locksmith’s shop, at Lant Street, in the Borough, near to the Thames.”
In 89 words, Sarah Waters has given us such a complete feel for the world she is creating, the Victorian era of the early 1860s, that by the time one gets to the end of that first paragraph, one knows one is in the hands of a master.
This novel has everything, sophisticated characterization, wonderful descriptions, heartbreak, treachery and great plot twists. Yes, one can see that Ms. Water’s literary ancestors are Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and the Bronte sisters, but she brings a fresh new voice, a sly modern take, on the preoccupations of those novelists. Five stars. A book club recommendation.