The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White

Book - 2002 | 1st US ed.
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At the heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape to a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters. They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, childlike wife, Agnes, who manages to overcome her chronic hysteria to make her appearances during "the Season"; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie, left to the care of minions; his pious brother, Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with flesh; all this overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions.
Twenty years in its conception, research, and writing, The Crimson Petal and the White is teeming with life, rich in texture and incident, with characters breathtakingly real. In a class by itself, it's a big, juicy, must-read of a novel that will delight, enthrall, provoke, and entertain young and old, male and female.
Publisher: New York : Harcourt, 2002.
Edition: 1st US ed.
ISBN: 9780151006922
Branch Call Number: FIC FABER, M.
Characteristics: 838 p. ; 24 cm.


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Dec 12, 2020

This book is definitely not appropriate for children and teens, I would say, because of some very descriptive sexual scenes, but it is a very enjoyable book. There are different stories that interconnect, so a general summary is not easy. Sugar is a young prostitute who is also an intellectual and a very smart business woman; she is writing a novel and aspires to improve herself. William Rackam, heir to a perfume factory, meets her and make his mistress of her. But William is married with Agnes, who has some mental issues, and has a daughter. And William has also a brother, Henry, who is in love with a widow who is only interested in saving prostitutes - or so it seems. The stories of all these characters are told by a very tricky omniscient narrator in third person - and I say tricky because we readers are often kept in the dark and are surprised by unexpected events.
The style is very readable and it is obvious that the author has done his research, lots of information about life in Victorian England.
The characters are all very well defined and described and I think I am not mistaken if you will find William a highly unlikable figure. The end is abrupt and we are left wondering what happens to Sugar and another person, but that might be revealed in a sequel, perhaps? I hope so, I have come to love Sugar and to cheer for her and her thirst for knowledge and freedom.

Oct 08, 2018

Spectacular! Really engrossing. Loved it. Hard on the wrists, though, 800+ pages of smallish type. The mini-series doesn't compare, though it's gorgeous.

Apr 19, 2017

Wish I'd owned the book so I could rip into pieces. My delicate wrists were aching with it's weight.

Wish I'd owned it so I could highlight the beautiful examples of old world turn of phrase.
Wish it hadn't been so long but I was sorry when it didn't end.

I'm left feeling somewhat cheated and disappointed and wanting more, of course.
This author is a bit of a sadistic bitch.

I can't be the only one raging and determined not to read any more of his work.
Would this teach him a lesson in how one treats one's readers?
Would he care? Probably not. I'm sure he has zillions of silly sycophants.

Aug 29, 2016

Loved the story but was disappointed by the loose ends. Was Agnes Rackham really dead? What happened to her? If she was dead, why did Sugar feel no remorse? What was the point of Henry's death? His character was developed so lovingly (much deeper than William's) and then pushed aside under such vague circumstances.
On the one hand such a thorough examination of life and at the same time such whimsical treatment of the main characters - Sugar's abduction of Sophie was basically a disastrous ending. Sigh. I guess I like everything accounted for...

Jul 27, 2015

From the very beginning, we’re warned by our mysterious tour guide-narrator that we need to leave our preconceptions behind: “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 another place altogether.” The warning has important implications for what’s to come...

Sugar, bless her, is what redeems the boilerplate plot. Her rise and fall (and eventual escape/retaliation), and the shifting sands of her fortune as they relate to William, her john/lover/boss/redeemer/exploiter, was a taut drama. But, in the end, she was still too trope-y for me—the shrewd and ambitious sex worker who strives to remake herself in the face of overwhelming social injustice.

The novel is also doused in a sexed-up patina, but one that is void of any eroticism. Sex for pleasure is transactional; sex in a marriage is for procreation. Faber seems most concerned about that conflict between the idea of ‘propriety’ (raised to an art form in Victorian times) and basic desires—and the economics of that clash. But, in doing so, Faber seems to have completely focused on the baser side of sexual relations to a fault. Blunt language abounds describing bodily fluids, the contents of chamber pots, douche plungers as birth control, and dirty bedsheets. Even Sugar herself is described in such alluring yet off-putting terms.

A dark revisionist take on Victorian London.

GVPL290661 Mar 06, 2015

Very close to the movie (2 DVD) version, lifelike and enthralling.

Feb 17, 2015

There are some sadly ignorant comments about this book. If you don't want to read a nearly 900 page book, then don't, but don't read it and then complain about the length. Faber is writing a Victorian novel from a 21st century perspective and if you've read even a few novels from the period ("Middlemarch," much of Dickens, "Vanity Fair"), you know that they ran long. Henry James called them "large loose baggy monsters." Faber's Victorian world is vulgar, filthy, hypocritical, and violent; everything that people typically think the era was not (it's worth noting that only the very rich had anything like indoor plumbing). His protagonist is a whore who successfully becomes the mistress of a wealthy, venal businessman and her rise parallels the common Victorian novel theme of the aspirational protagonist. It's a bravura piece of work that both vividly evokes the era, while also casting a cynical, critical eye upon it. Yes, it is long (he worked on it for nearly two decades), but it's necessarily for the wealth of detail, the narrative sweep, and the character developments. Nothing less than one of the great novels of this century. Please ignore the negative comments, this is a monumental achievement.

Apr 12, 2014

I did get irritated with the length of it. I came to hate all the main characters. Where was the editor?? i stubbornly refused to relent and eventually reached the end. Of course it took so long to get there that no ending would have been satisfactory. Under the Skin is so much better! And well edited!

Jan 23, 2014


Oct 21, 2013

This is a lengthy book but actually a fast read. Victorian setting with interesting characters and intruiging plot. I thought the ending was funny but I can see how it would make some readers upset.

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KHaney Mar 19, 2008

Faber's bawdy, brilliant third novel tells an intricate tale of love and ambition and paints a new portrait of Victorian England and its citizens in prose crackling with insight and bravado. Using the wealthy Rackham clan as a focal point for his sprawling, gorgeous epic, Faber, like Dickens or Hardy, explores an era's secrets and social hypocrisy. William Rackham is a restless, rebellious spirit, mistrustful of convention and the demands of his father's perfume business. While spying on his sickly wife's maid, whom he suspects of thievery, he begins a slow slide into depravity: he meets Sugar, a whore whose penetrating mind and love of books intrigues him as much as her beauty and carnal skills do. Faber (Under the Skin) also weaves in the stories of Agnes, William's delicate, mad and manipulative wife, and Henry, his pious, morally conflicted brother, both of whom seek escape from their private prisons through fantasies and small deceptions. Sin and vice both attract and repel the brothers: William, who becomes obsessed with Sugar, rescues her from her old life, while Henry, paralyzed by his love for Emmeline Fox, a comely widow working to rescue the city's prostitutes, slowly unravels. Faber's central characters, especially the troubled William and the ambitious Sugar, shine with life, and the author is no less gifted in capturing the essence of his many minor characters-the evil madam, Mrs. Castaway, and William's pompous father-in-law, Lord Unwin. The superb plot draws on a wealth of research and briskly moves through the lives of each character-whether major or minor, upstairs or downstairs-gathering force until the fates of all are revealed. A marvelous story of erotic love, sin, familial conflicts and class prejudice, this is a deeply entertaining masterwork that will hold readers captive until the final page.


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