Monday, November 24, 2008


There's spoilers ahead, if you have any intention of reading this massive volume. Just so's you know.

I just moments ago finally finished The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. And the feeling that overwhelmed me as I turned the last page was:


This is precisely the same feeling I get when I've committed two or two-and-a-half hours to a (usually artsy "independent") movie only to reach an ambiguous ending that answers none of my questions. Only this time it wasn't a couple of hours. It was seven weeks. Seven weeks of my life reading a 900-page book, and what did I learn? Is Agnes dead? Maybe. Probably. Does William bleed to death from his injuries, or is he perhaps robbed and murdered before he can make it home? I don't know. Does Sugar escape and make a new life and a new family? One would think so, knowing what we do about her resourcefulness and her financial situation. But maybe not. It's not a kind world to an unmarried woman.

So yes, it was a compelling ride, and yes, he was an able writer who evoked an engaging world that sucked me in so much that I committed two (Two!) entire naptimes in a single day to finish it.

But what do I get for my commitment? A tongue-in-cheek afterword and fifteen "Readers Group Guide" questions to properly direct my thinking about this book.

And no, I thought I knew where we were going with the title, but I didn't, really. I mean, yes, generally, I get the whole "the good and the bad," "the moral and the immoral" implications. But who are the crimson and the white? William and Agnes? William and Edward? Sugar and Emmeline? William and Sugar? Sugar and Sophie? Sugar and Caroline? William and Caroline? All of the above?

Eh, whatever. That was a long way to go.

Oh yeah, and while I'm at it, who wrote the blurb on the back of the book? Did they even read the goddamned thing? Probably not, since it's freakin' 900 pages long. It says:

"Meet Sugar, a nineteen-year-old prostitute in Victorian London who yearns for escape to a better life. From the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, she begins her ascent through society. Beginning with William Rackham, a perfume magnate whose lust for Sugar soon begins to smell like love, she meets a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters as her social rise is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds."

What? Rackham makes his pitch for Sugar on page 180, and he's nowhere near a "perfume magnate" at the time. And she leaves his house on page 868, no higher in her "ascent through society" than a (slightly higher class) servant in his household. Maybe this was an effective blurb as far as marketing goes, but man, it misses the actual book by at least as many inches as the book is thick. I wonder if the author scoffed audibly the first time he read it.

So there you go. There's my literary analysis of the book, one that would make the professors who shepherded me through my English major proud: it was pretty good. I liked it. But the ending kind of pissed me off. The end.


She Said said...

Yikes, maybe it is time for some lighter reading. Say something written for the young adult crowd, so you know it won't ever get that deep and involved? Hmmm... Maybe Twilight? :-)

I, Rodius said...

Oh yeah, Twilight. Maybe I'll find that on Audiobook. The right narrator might make all the difference. Stephen Fry was a necessary component to my enjoyment of all that Potter teen angst.

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