The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. Harcourt, 2002. 835 pages. Hardcover/Hardback.
The most prominent and creative aspect of The Crimson Petal and the White is the narration. It has an overall second person narration (which I am actually not normally a fan of), but much of it is told in a way that sounds third person. When Faber does dive into the second person, it's with sheer brilliance. It's written as if you are being taken on the most intense, detailed, and scandalous tour you'll ever be a part of; I almost felt like I was watching a movie with the camera zooming in and around various people and settings. It's fantastic, and I'm truly not sure if I've ever read anything quite like it.
The setting is a gritty, dirty, and shockingly authentic Victorian London. There's no sugar-coating, nothing to make the setting or characters appear more noble than they are (or aren't), and it's pure brilliance. There's was a constant sense that I was rooting around in the private affairs of others that Faber captured extremely well and truly brought the entire story to life.
One aspect of Faber's style that really stood out to me was his extensive use of detail, which I think is part of what made everything so lifelike and authentic. Everything is so clearly described or minutely detailed that it's hard not to find yourself sucked into the story.
What I loved was how Faber really played with his characters, but at the same time seemed to almost let them lead the story in whichever direction they desired. Sugar, one of our main characters, is strong and independent, but contains a small, sentimental hope for something more in her life. As a prostitute, she is always sharing her body, but what she truly seems to want to do is share her mind; she wants to write and be outspoken, to make a stand and allow others to understand the experiences of prostitutes and others like her. She wants men to realize that the women they so rudely and carelessly take advantage of are just as - if not more - capable and clever as them.
William Rackham, a second main character, is also a deeply layered man. While on the surface he appears and acts as if he has great disdain and a lack of patience for his ailing wife, his actions show something rather contrary, which is difficult to discern, but still noticeable: he loves her. No matter what, he can't seem to help but love her, no matter the frustrations she causes him to have. William seems to want nothing more than a normal, happy, sufficient marriage. But that is not what his circumstances give him, and so instead we see how he handles these issues, how he ends up meeting Sugar and how they interact and how their own uniquely personal relationship unfolds.
Along with Sugar and William are a variety of other extremely colorful and strong characters, and I strongly encourage you to give this book a chance in order to meet all of them in greater depth.
The ending is both excellent and frustrating at the same time - it's almost a non-ending, leaving you wondering what more could happen, but it's also an absolutely, perfectly satisfying wrap-up that almost seems to tease you with more, but at the same time leaves you content and satiated. It's as if it were all somehow meant to be.
I do feel as though I've been giving out quite a few five stars lately, but I can't help that I've just been immensely blessed to keep stumbling upon such fantastic books. As you can guess, I am giving The Crimson Petal and the White a well-earned five stars. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels mature enough to jump on for the ride!
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