The crimson petal and the white by Michael Faber is a novel that by all rights I should hate. It’s a 900 page long story set in victorian England in which very little happens. I ought to be bored to tears, but in reality the book gripped my like no other book I’ve read recently.
The reason: The characters. This book is driven almost totally by the people in it, and Faber brings them to life as deep, funny, interesting, sexy, confused, frustrated, brave, cowardly, weird and wonderful. There’s Sugar, the highly skilled prostitute who writes a secret novel in which she kills off innumerable men. There’s William Rackham, the aspiring intellectual who drives himself to take over his fathers perfume business. There’s Williams strange and beautiful wife, who teeters between high society and madness. And there’s a whole host of other human beings (not merely characters), each of whom are brought to life in front of the readers eyes. The result is, that for all their flaws and failings, you end up caring deeply about what happens to them.
The novel has another quirk: It speaks directly to the reader, and anticipating your every thought, leads you on a tour of Londons victorian stratified society. It lends a wonderful intimacy and drive to the story, and gives you the impression, that here is a tale told just for you. It’s a wonderful book, and I recommend it highly.