Saturday, 7 November 2015

'Affinity', by Sarah Waters

Title: Affinity
Author(s): Sarah Waters
Release Date: 1999
Publisher: Virago 
Genre: Neo-Victorian, Historical Fiction
Source: Bought

An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women’s ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London’s grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank’s murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by one apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own.


Sarah Waters has been one in a list of many, many authors that I have been meaning to read for years. Historical Fiction is a genre that I quite enjoy reading, but at the same time I can't force myself into it, and need to wait until I feel that craving for some history.

Once I saw this book as one of my compulsory reads for University, I thought to myself: 'I will finally get to read something by Sarah Waters!'. The joy did not last long, though, as this ended up being one of the slowest paced books I have read lately.

Took me almost a week to get past the first 50 pages. The same happened with the next 50. For most of the book there is not much going on, and you could easily skim through more than half having only read the synopsis and still understand where it was all going.

If this hadn't been a compulsory read, I would probably have given up on it.

From a historical perspective, it was curious to see how women were imprisoned in the Victorian Era and the parallel in treatment between both sexes when put in the same situation. Since it also revolves around spiritualism, with both opposing view points being presented to the reader (the 'believer' and the 'realist'), the conclusion that you could easily transpose the portrayal of the topic to present times without many differences was interesting to get to.

Not only was the pacing somewhat off, but Sarah's writing was also below my expectations. I would find myself constantly having to stop and go back a page to read it over again because I could just not understand what was happening. The flow of the story was full of hiccups, and that had a big part to play in how slowly I read this book.

The genre was also complicated to make out. At first I though it would lean more into mystery, but then it turned to romance, and in the final stretch it circled back to the more mystery oriented vibe. All of this put together made for a very confusing read.

For most of my reading I thought I would rate this book lower but I am giving it an extra star solely because of the unexpected inclusion of an LGBT theme and the complete turnaround the plot took in the last 50 pages. It was a plot twist I did not see coming at all and it helped, if only barely, to feel like this read was worthwhile.

Give it a try if you are a fan of historical fiction and want to read more diversely in the genre, but don't expect to make a fast read of it. I would suggest alternating it with a different book, if only to not get as frustrated as I did.

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