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Book Title: Veripunainen, lumivalkoinen|
The author of the book: Michel Faber
The size of the: 578 KB
City - Country: No data
Date of issue: 2004
ISBN 13: 9789510294758
Format files: PDF
Loaded: 1741 times
Reader ratings: 4.9
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A word of warning, my friends: I’ll be giving this the hard sell. To begin, please create in your mind’s eye (and ear) the most interesting tour guide imaginable. He knows all about Victorian England – its people, its paradoxes – and what’s more, he knows what you don’t know but would find fascinating. Transitions back and forth between our modern perspectives and their older, more circumscribed ones are virtually seamless. He’s wise about people, too, their quirks and motivations, independent of setting. Oh, and the language. . . every word is perfect. You’ll hardly notice the passing hours.
Right from the very beginning this omniscient fellow speaks directly to you, promises you intimate details (some of which are dark and surprising, even a bit graphic), and lures you straight into 1875. You’re in very deep soon enough, utterly beguiled.
Character-driven, with the plot riding shotgun
I think it’s a disservice to reveal much of the plot. The narrator/tour guide will get to what’s relevant when the time is right. I will summarize the inside flap, though, which I figure is fair game. William Rackham, the purposeless heir to a perfume manufacturer, meets Sugar, the clever and willing young prostitute who suddenly fills him with ambition. He takes over his father’s business, enjoys a quick reversal of fortune, and sees to Sugar’s ascent from the squalor so that he can have her all to himself. What follows is a whole lot of interplay between these characters and a well-drawn host of others. The primary ones are:
The aforementioned William – self-centered but not entirely vile; a would-be essayist and wag; a man defined and even a bit constrained by his social standing and the times.
The aforementioned Sugar – enterprising and smart; a devotee of [pun alert] Dale Carnalgie’s How to Win Johns and Manipulate People; riveting to see how her people smarts and hooker’s talent for prevarication play out in chess matches of actions and reactions.
Agnes – William’s wife who is actually somewhat deranged (we as readers are clued in to the cause even though the characters are not); beautiful yet naïve; almost laughably shallow by modern standards as the product of a finishing school.
Henry – William’s older brother who is in certain ways the better chap; would rather have been a man of the cloth than a man of commerce (as their father had originally hoped); earnest as the day is long but unable to suppress those pesky animal urges.
Emmeline Fox – a somewhat iconoclastic widow who does social work to help prostitutes in need; the object of Henry’s affections; one with a better applied sense of religion; ill but unyielding.
Sophie – William’s six-year-old daughter who begins as a near non-entity but turns into a character with surprising depth; much of her blossoming is due to a source I shan’t divulge.
Interesting others, among them prostitutes whose hearts range from gold to substances not nearly so glittery, a leech-toting doctor who sees to poor Agnes, and a couple of William’s friends from school – abominable but pretty damned funny.
Victorian London, seeds and all
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Sorry. . . that’s unoriginal. But Dickens comes to mind for a reason. There were still many hardships for the poor, class distinctions were endemic, and byzantine morals lay beneath thin but glossy surfaces. The narrator states, “no righteous man must dare to think of the flesh, and no righteous woman must be aware of having it. If an exuberant barbarian from a savage fringe of the Empire were to stray into St. James's Park and compliment one of these ladies on the delicious-looking contours of her flesh, her response would most likely be neither delight nor disdain, but instant loss of consciousness.” Yet prostitution and pornography were booming. Conflict is easy to come by in a setting like this. It need not be manufactured or contrived.
Faber said, plausibly enough, that he did a huge amount of research into the times, but didn’t actually use much of it. He said he hates when authors try so desperately to show off their knowledge to justify their efforts in obtaining it. Faber’s goal instead was to paint a vivid picture without ever allowing the pace to bog down. He hoped there was none of that “Let’s pause here for some historical stuff.” And there wasn’t.
Purple prose? Pshaw!
While the Victorian setting makes a certain richness of prose seem natural, there was a conscious effort to mix in faster paced elements, too. This was done so well that the writing, while lush, never felt overly verbose or ponderous; this despite longer sentences and even occasional adverbs. (In an interview, Faber made fun of Stephen King’s book on writing that basically said a pox upon modifiers. My feeling is that King may be right for most writers, but exceptions must be made for those like Faber who are so good at choosing them; you know, advisedly, unerringly.)
Analysis (sans spoilers)
I mentioned already that the writing is both sumptuous and fast-paced, a mix of old and new. It seems the same can be said for its literary classification. Pomo, you might ask? Well, yes and no. The narrator at the very beginning makes no bones about the fact that you’re reading a novel. And he switches between multiple POV characters, occasionally speaking directly to us as modern-day readers. Some have even called this “tricksy”, though those same people also admit that in Faber’s capable hands, it works. For the most part, though, the book features older style narration. Faber’s answer to an interview question speaks clearly to the way he wants this to be perceived. “I'm not impressed when authors rub their readers' faces in the fact that a book is only an artificial construct, that characters are not real, that it's all an exercise in deception and intellectual conceit. There's nothing new or clever about this. Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy did it to perfection two hundred and fifty years ago.”
For me the most interesting question is how a book so long never once bored me. It wasn’t just the setting or the writing, though both were appealing. I suspect it had more to do with how real the characters seemed. Faber said that in an earlier draft William was more villainous, but was rewritten to become more likeable and complex. This made his bad behavior all the more poignant since it came from someone I cared to learn about. Sugar was revealed in even greater detail as she vied for influence and a better life. We’re granted valuable access to her hopes, fears, sensibility, and schemes. When I sit for a tick to think about it, it’s the way the characters are revealed (through dialog, the story, the inner voices, and that amazing narrator’s talent for description) that makes this the best book I’ve read in quite a while.
The sense of a non-ending
This book is not loved universally. By far the most common complaint is the lack resolution at the end. Maybe The Sopranos helped prepare me, but I kind of liked the open-endedness. Some have surmised that after 900 pages, Faber just ran out of steam. As meticulously drawn as the storyline was up to that point, though, I suspect Faber wanted us to speculate. It made the story even truer to life, where loose threads dangle all over the map.
Faber evidently caved in to the pressure and later wrote a book of short stories called The Apple New Crimson Petal Stories that features the same characters. Whether it truly ties up loose ends, or is up to the standards of this one, I don’t know. But I plan to find out.
Read this book! If not immediately, then soon. And if you don’t trust my judgment, check out the review by Goodreads luminary Paul Bryant. Maybe an Englishman, and one not so profligate with his stars, can convince you.
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Read information about the authorMichel Faber (born 13 April 1960) is a Dutch writer of English-language fiction.
Faber was born in The Hague, The Netherlands. He and his parents emigrated to Australia in 1967. He attended primary and secondary school in the Melbourne suburbs of Boronia and Bayswater, then attended the University Of Melbourne, studying Dutch, Philosophy, Rhetoric, English Language (a course involving translation and criticism of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English texts) and English Literature. He graduated in 1980. He worked as a cleaner and at various other casual jobs, before training as a nurse at Marrickville and Western Suburbs hospitals in Sydney. He nursed until the mid-1990s. In 1993 he, his second wife and family emigrated to Scotland, where they still reside.
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