Tuesday, March 3, 2009

#5--Affinity, by Sarah Waters

I came out of the closet, in as much as I ever needed to, when I was about 16. I've wavered back and forth between the idea of being a lesbian or being asexual from time to time, but that I might be straight has never really crossed my mind.

I always kind of suspect, though, that I don't make a very good lesbian. I've never really been a part of the community, although I'm sort of aware that it's out there. I know of at least three lesbian-specific clubs right here in town, even though I live in Oklahoma, which most people wouldn't expect to be very gay-friendly. We've got an actual gay district, though (tiny though it may be), and the largest gay resort in the entire center of the country (which, seeing it every day on my way to work, makes me a little sad. That's the best the vast geographical majority of the country can do? Seriously?).

Several years ago, I went through this phase where I thought I was going to make myself a better lesbian. I started hanging out at a local feminist-but-mostly-lesbian-focused library/community center, I started trying to watch more lesbian movies, and I decided to try reading more lesbian books.

It didn't last long before I lost patience with the whole affair. Guess I'll never be a good lesbian, whatever the hell that means.

I especially had trouble finding lesbian fiction that I cared to read. I know a lot of people really love coming of age stories, but I have trouble stirring up my interest. I wasn't too into lesbian detectives solving murder mysteries, either. Take out those and the erotica, and you've got like, maybe five books to chose from.

Which would be how I came across Tipping the Velvet, which I'll admit I selected for the most shallow reason of them all (the cover was pretty). And I really enjoyed the hell out of that book. So much so that I gave it to a friend to read, who started out skeptical and ended up also really enjoying it.

So when I came across another book by Sara Waters, I grabbed it.

And Fingersmith totally let me down. It was a well crafted book, and the plot itself was enjoyable, but the relationship between the characters felt so forced and unnatural that it ruined the whole thing for me. Especially the end.

So I approached Affinity with a great deal of caution. I picked it up occasionally. I read the first few pages every now and again, and then I put it back down.

Then I made a critical error: I watched the BBC movie based on the book.

The movie was faithful to the book, in as much as a movie can afford to be. The problem is that this is a story with an ending you really shouldn't know going in. Knowing where it was all heading cast a shadow over the rest of the book, and I'm sorry I didn't go in blind.

Tipping the Velvet was a lesbian adventure in Victorian theater and the socialist movement. Fingersmith was a dash through London thieves and Victorian pornography. Affinity was a look at Victorian spiritualism and the women's prisons of the time.

I think it was also weaker than Waters' first outing, but I enjoyed it far more than Fingersmith. This is a much darker book than the previous two, tackling weightier issues.

I won't get into the plot, because it's better explored blind. I loved Margaret Prior, and wanted the best for her throughout. I thought that the relationship that developed between her and one particular prisoner she visited in Millbanks, Miss Selena Dawes, was natural and believable. I enjoyed the handling of the spiritualism, and I think the plot wrapped itself up neatly without being too exasperatingly clever.

And it is dark and sad. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure it's a book I'll revisit.

Next up: Blood Noir

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