Sue lives with her adoptive family who ply their trade as thieves and with various cons. When a regular collaborator with them, Richard Rivers, called the Gentleman suggests a new con, Sue suddenly finds herself training to become a maid to the rich Maud Lilly. Maud lives in a remote estate, Briar, with her uncle Christopher Lilly, an avid book collector. Gentleman was a guest of theirs and saw the perfect opportunity: he would marry Maud and then get rid of her, but keep her money. All he needs is a confidante who makes sure that Maud makes the right decisions. And so Sue travels to Briar to make sure their plan goes off without a hitch.
Fingersmith was an absolutely fantastic read. Vivid characters, perfect setting, one of the best plot twists in the history of plot twists and a whole lot of feminism. What more could you possibly ask for?
Fingersmith is divided in three parts. The transitions between the parts are marked by a plot twist each and even half a year later I’m admittedly still screaming about the first one. And that’s not because it was so surprising – it didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, I did suspect that things might be heading that way. But it was a perfectly executed twist precisely because of the foreshadowing – and it hit home even harder because of all the “will she actually go there???” that came before it.
That twist makes it necessary that the second part of the novel has to retrace the steps of the first part – which could have been boring but ended up fascinating and not boring for a single second. The plot twist between second and third part was not quite as amazing as the first, but still damn good. The third part was the weakest of the book, with a few lengths here and there. But since it all culminated in a happy end (for LESBIANS), I didn’t mind that at all.
Maud and Sue were great characters with a whole lot of depth, proper motivation and their fair share of flaws. And despite the fact that they both were assholes for a lot of the book, I really liked them. Or maybe because of it. In any case, it’s rare enough that we get female characters this fleshed out and this defined, so I gotta cherish them for that alone. And they always saved themselves and were never left without agency, making them perfect heroines.
The novel makes even more feminist points as it continuously shows how women get boxed in by society and the people around them, how restricted and limited their lives become in an oppressive society. And it lets both Maud and Sue escape those limits in the end.
Somehow, Waters manages to pull off the perfect trick with historic settings, especially in that regard: the setting feels completely natural (at least to a history noob like me) and made me feel like I could feel the 19th century around me. And at the same time, it feels perfectly contemporary and not old-fashioned at all.
All of that makes Fingersmith an amazing read, despite some weaknesses here and there. I can understand why Park Chan-Wook would want to adapt it as a film.
Summarizing: Absolutely recommended.