Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Crimson Petal and the White Read-along: Week 2 - Chapters 8 to 12


One day soon I might post about something that isn't The Crimson Petal and the White but today is not that day.  Well, I might write about something else today but you won't see the post today.  I'd hoped that I'd be able to mix up posts during the read-along and not just write about Victorian prostitutes but I haven't.  Mainly because I've got a new job and resigning from my current employer has been...awkward and distracting.

Anyway, Victorian prostitutes!

The Prompts

Readers who haven't read the book be warned - there are some spoilers in the questions this week so you might want to look away now.  My answers are at the bottom of this post, as is the linky for fellow read-alongers.

1)  The first 150 pages were a runaway read-along success.  Has anybody's opinions changed at all or are we all still in love?

2)  William seems transformed from moany idler to committed businessman.  Has the change improved anybody's opinion of him?  How long do you think it will last?

3)  We've spent more time with Henry Rackham and Emmeline Fox this week.  What do you think of their respective efforts to save the poor?

4)  There is a quote from The Guardian on the back of my edition that describes the book as "The novel that Dickens might have written had he been allowed to speak freely".  Thoughts?

5)  The final chapter of this week's reading saw Sugar moved to a new home and declare herself 'free'.  What do you think about her newfound freedom - real or illusory?

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My Musings

1)  The first 150 pages were a runaway read-along success.  Has anybody's opinions changed at all or are we all still in love?


I *love* this book.  As I'm writing this on Sunday evening, I'm actually most of the way through this week's reading.  It's just so hard to stop and pick up something else when I'm enjoying this so much!  I don't feel at all as though I'm plodding through a long book; the pages are flying by and I'm so happy that I still have another 450 pages or so to spend with these characters.

2)  William seems transformed from moany idler to committed businessman.  Has the change improved anybody's opinion of him?  How long do you think it will last?


I find myself a bit conflicted over William now.  On the one hand, he's still the man that was moping around just hoping that he would get a great pile of cash from his father without having to lift a finger working for it.  On the other, though, I do feel as though his commitment to the business is real and I want to give him a second chance.  I think it was Hanna that pointed out last week that he could have sent Agnes off to an asylum never to be heard from again and he hasn't.  

So sure, he's taken a mistress and rented her a house and is paying for her to live comfortably while he has a wife at home who clearly needs him to pay more attention to her but is he so terrible when compared with wealthy Victorian men generally?  I'm not sure.  It certainly seems as though he's trying at the moment, which is a million miles away from his lackadaisical approach to the world at the beginning.  I think what I'm saying is that I don't hate him any more, which is unsettling. 

3)  We've spent more time with Henry Rackham and Emmeline Fox this week.  What do you think of their respective efforts to save the poor?


I really like Emmeline Fox, which is a shame because I'm pretty sure that she's not long for the world.  What I love about her efforts to help "fallen women" is that they seem more genuinely useful than Henry's.  I also love how she refuses to conform to society's ideals of what a woman should or shouldn't be in a quiet, dignified way:
"In Mrs Fox's parlour, Mrs Fox is doing a rather impolite thing in plain view of her visitor.  She is folding sheets of paper from a stack in her lap, inserting them in envelopes, and licking the edges, all the while continuing her conversation.  The first time Henry Rackham witnessed this, months ago, he was no less taken aback than if she'd raised a mirror to her face and begun picking her teeth; now, he's used to it.  There are simply not enough hours in the day for all of her activities, so some must be performed simultaneously" [Page 256]
Henry does my head in.  He's chosen to dedicate his life to more 'worthy' pursuits than business and money, which is obviously great but for the fact that he doesn't seem to be doing much of anything other than mooning about after Mrs Fox.  He talks the talk but is more concerned about repressing his feelings than actually doing anything more meaningful than flashing some coins about occasionally.

4)  There is a quote from The Guardian on the back of my edition that describes the book as "The novel that Dickens might have written had he been allowed to speak freely".  Thoughts?


One of the things that I love the most about this book is how the writing does feel authentic, albeit with a twist when the narrator is speaking and acknowledging that readers are looking at events from a different time entirely.  My experience with Dickens has always been a bit hit and miss but I do think that this kind of unflinching look at prostitution and social inequality would have been right up his street if he'd been able to write in more of a candid way without both probably being slightly repressed himself and also without the risk of scandalising his readers to the point of ruining his reputation.  Not necessarily about prostitution maybe but definitely about the divide between those selling themselves and those buying.

5)  The final chapter of this week's reading saw Sugar moved to a new home and declare herself 'free'.  What do you think about her newfound freedom - real or illusory?


The chapter where William Rackham goes to 'acquire' Sugar and have her passed into his ownership really made me cross.  That a man could wander into a business and buy a woman without her having any say in it is truly appalling.  That Sugar sees being effectively owned by a man and completely dependent on his whims for everything down to the food that she eats as being 'free' is unbearably sad.  I get that it's comparatively luxurious and that she has more power in her "relationship" with William than she ever would have had working at Mrs Castaway's and being sold to multiple men but it's not freedom by any measure I'd recognise.  She might have more time to herself and be living in more comfortable surroundings but she seems to own even less than before and she's far more reliant on William than she ever seemed on her previous madam.  It's tragic but it does raise an interesting question about what freedom women ever really had in the late nineteenth century.  

I'm hoping that she proves stronger and smarter than William and is able to secure some measure of actual freedom eventually.

See you next week for Chapters 13 to 18, friends!


Monday, 22 February 2016

The Crimson Petal and the White Read-Along: Week 1 - Chapters 1 to 7


Wow.  What a first 150 pages!  This post is spoiler free (we're only at the beginning, after all) so if you're not taking part but are curious about the first section, you can read on without worrying about stumbling on something that might ruin the book for you.

1)  We'll start simple.  How are you finding the book so far?

I'm really, really enjoying it.  I expected to like it but I'm surprised by just how easily the pages fly by.  The way the narrator is talking directly to readers and the acknowledgement that we're from another time doesn't feel at all gimmicky or awkward; it works perfectly.  I can feel the characters starting to get under my skin but it's the writing that's really been making it for me so far.  The dry, almost snarky commentary keeps on making me smile and I've been noting down quotes all over the place.  Take this one:
"The ladies swanning through St James's Park this sunny November midday will not be required to change much between now and the end of their century.  They are suitable for immediate use in the paintaings of Tissot, the sensation of the Seventies, but they could still pass muster for Munch twenty years later (though he might wish to make a few adjustments).  Only a world war will finally destroy them" [Page 65]
If the whole book is as good as this first section, I can see it being one of my top books of the year.

2)  The language and tone of the writing is pretty brutal and unflinching.  Does that bother you?  Does it change how you feel about doling out recommendations?

It was a bit of a shock at first.  The graphic description of some more...rustic methods of preventing pregnancy, for example, and the liberal use of some pretty heavy-duty bad language did surprise me but didn't offend me.  I'm not easily offended when it comes to language and it doesn't seem gratuitous, more just in keeping with the slightly sordid side of London in the 1870s.

3)  We've met both Sugar and William Rackham now.  First impressions?

I really like Sugar so far and I pretty much despise William.

Sugar makes me sad.  She's smart and well read but unable to aspire to much more than prostitution.
"A pity really, that Sugar's brain was not born into a man's head, and instead squirms, constricted and crammed, in the dainty skull of a girl.  What a contribution she might have made to the British Empire"
I feel as though there's a lot more to learn about her and I'm really curious to read more from her perspective.  I could live with fewer descriptions of how dry her lips and skin are, though, I have to say.

William is selfish, lazy and a shameless misogynist.  Truly awful.  The chapters from his perspective are amusing in a vaguely terrible way.  His views on socialism ("Socialism is not the same thing as letting one's servants muddle towards anarchy"), on women and on the great injustice of being required to work for a living are entertaining, even while I desperately want to punch him in the face.   I'm curious to see whether he'll change for the better or if he's just a walking tragedy waiting to happen. 

4)  Agnes Rackham has been a bit of a fringe character in this first section but her treatment by her husband and doctor makes her quite the tragic figure.  What do you think about her mysterious 'illness'?

I want to like Agnes.  Being married to William would be trying for any woman but I'm not sure what to make of her illness.  I'm not sure if she's depressed or if she's got some as yet undiagnosed physical illness but I'm intrigued by her.  Mostly because I'll get to read about the mistreatment of women with mental illness, which I really find fascinating.

5)  Much though I'm really enjoying the book, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of a plot.  Any predictions about what's coming up?

I don't want to be the voice of impending doom but I sense something terrible in our characters' futures.  At least one death and at least one birth.  I don't see this book ever becoming plot driven but I don't think I mind that.  I love the writing and I'll happily read about whatever these characters get up to.  So I'm guessing (and I really am guessing - I actually haven't a clue what's going to happen so these aren't spoilers!) a child between William and Sugar, an incarceration in an asylum for Agnes aaaand William both gaining and losing his father's fortune.

See you next week!

Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Crimson Petal and the White Read-Along: Week 1 - Chapters 1 to 7


How's everybody doing on this gloomy Sunday evening?  Hopefully all enjoying The Crimson Petal and the White as much as I am!

Here are this week's prompts.  Feel free to use these or to chat about this week's chapters in whatever way you like.

1)  We'll start simple.  How are you finding the book so far?

2)  The language and tone of the writing is pretty brutal and unflinching.  Does that bother you?  Does it change how you feel about doling out recommendations?

3)  We've met both Sugar and William Rackham now.  First impressions?

4)  Agnes Rackham has been a bit of a fringe character in this first section but her treatment by her husband and doctor makes her quite the tragic figure.  What do you think about her mysterious 'illness'?

5)  Much though I'm really enjoying the book, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of a plot.  Any predictions about what's coming up?

Leave a link to your post below so that I can stop by and chat prostitutes!


Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Crimson Petal and the White Read-Along: Week 0 - Introductions


I may only have decided to actually read-along this book a few weeks ago but it's seemed like a long wait with this gorgeous tome residing in my living room and staring at me.

I've kept the introductions simple so that we can focus on getting started with the reading (I'm that impatient).

1.  Introduce yourself!

I'm Charlotte, I'm 29 and I'll be reading The Crimson Petal and the White from Yorkshire, England.   I like pinot noir, stinky cheese and...well, books.  I don't like dogs, horror films or tea.  

Despite having blogged here at Lit Addicted Brit for about five years, I've never actually hosted a read-along.  I've been a participant plenty of times but never the host.  I've heard nothing but great things about this book, though, so hopefully it's a safe bet.    

2.  If this is your first read, what are you expecting from it?  If this isn't your first time, what has prompted you to re-read?

I'm hoping for something slightly quirky.  Having an omniscient narrator who from the bit I've read so far is talking directly to readers is something I don't think I've ever read before and I'm really curious about how it works as a way of telling a story.  Other than that, I'm just have general, lofty expectations.

3.  Book porn time - share a picture of your edition.

So pretty!

4.  This is some pretty chunky historical fiction.  Is it the kind of book that you'd normally go for or is this more of a safety in numbers deal to help you tackle something out of your comfort zone?

One of my favourite books is The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett and I read a lot of epic fantasy so I'm not exactly a stranger to books with a more hefty page count.  I'm hoping that Crimson Petal will be as sweeping as that in scope and that my heart will be as invested in Sugar's story.  19th Century England is a period of history that I find interesting, too, so I'm not too far from where I feel comfortable.  Bring on the prostitutes and the reprobates!

The Crimson Petal and the White Read-Along: Week 0 - Introductions

It's time for some 'passion, intrigue, ambition and revenge'!

I've made a start on the book this afternoon and it's excellent so far.  If you haven't signed up yet and have been thinking about it, I'm pretty sure we're in for quite a treat!  The schedule is here.

1.  Introduce yourself!

2.  If this is your first read, what are you expecting from it?  If this isn't your first time, what has prompted you to re-read?

3.  Book porn time - share a picture of your edition.

4.  This is some pretty chunky historical fiction.  Is it the kind of book that you'd normally go for or is this more of a safety in numbers deal to help you tackle something out of your comfort zone?

Post a link to wherever you're chatting about The Crimson Petal and the White below so that I can swing by and we can talk 19th century prostitutes and...well, whatever this book turns out to be about!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Crimson Petal and the White: Read-Along Schedule


It occurred to me today that there's only a few days until we get to start our read-along of The Crimson Petal and the White!  I've had the book next to my sofa in the living room for a couple of weeks now and I'm SO looking forward to cracking it open.  It bodes very well that a couple of our read-alongers are re-reading after loving the book the first time!

I have the pictured edition that is part of Canongate's 'Canon' collection and I've put together the schedule from that.  I'm not sure how many editions of the book there actually are but I've given page numbers and chapter numbers so that hopefully everybody will end most weeks in roughly the same spot!  And sorry for sounding so much like a lawyer but numbers are inclusive.

Week 1 (Sunday 14th - Saturday 20th February):  Pages 1 - 151 (Chapters 1 - 7)

Week 2 (Sunday 21st - Saturday 27th February):  Pages 152 - 274 (Chapters 8 - 12)

Week 3 (Sunday 28th February - Saturday 5th March):  Pages 275 - 421 (Chapters 9 - 18)

Week 4 (Sunday 6th - Saturday 12th March):  Pages 422 - 571 (Chapters 19 - 24)

Week 5 (Sunday 13th - Saturday 19th March):  Pages 572 - 692 (Chapters 25 - 29)

Week 6 (Sunday 20th - Saturday 26th March):  Pages 693 - 835 (Chapters 30 - The End...I didn't want to poke around the end of the book too much!)

I'm so excited I could pop.  I have no plans for Sunday other than posting an 'Introductions' type post and then getting stuck into reading.  Valentine schmalentine.

I'll be tweeting throughout the readalong from @LitAddictedBrit using the hashtag #crimsonpetalreadalong

If you haven't signed up yet, what are you waiting for?  The gross tail end of winter was *made* for gigantic historical fiction novels!  The sign up post is HERE

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Review: 'The Ballroom' by Anna Hope


Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Where love is your only escape...

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful. For one bright evening every week they come together and dance. When John and Ella meet it is a dance that will change two lives forever. Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, The Ballroom is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.


Wake by Anna Hope was one of my favourite books of 2014 (review here).  I remember being amazed at how a story that was quiet in so many ways could be so impactive; how Hope could tell a story of the lives of three women over the course of five days and manage to say so much about post-war Britain.  The Ballroom manages to do just the same thing.  Through Ella and John's story, Hope manages to weave a commentary on the treatment (or lack of treatment) of mental health in the early 20th century without that commentary weighing too heavily on the plot or leaving it feeling laboured.

The novel follows Ella, a young woman incarcerated in Sharston Asylum after breaking a window at the factory where she worked out of frustration and a simple wish to see daylight for a change, and John, locked up after losing his family, his job and becoming homeless and destitute.  There are other 'residents' who have what would still be regarded as mental health problems by today's standards (Ella's friend, Clem, for example, whose experiences are particularly harrowing) but Ella and John are just two young people who have fallen on hard times and are regarded by society as unstable or inferior.  Every week, the better behaved inmates are treated to a dance.  A bright spot in their routines where they get to socialise with members of the opposite sex and dance.  Ella and John's meeting is adorable and the progress of their relationship from that moment on made my heart hurt.  Their story isn't melodramatic.  It's gentle and achingly realistic and I was entirely taken in by it.

I just love the way that Anna Hope writes characters.  The way that they grow and change subtly until they're someone different entirely.  Alongside Ella and John's narrative is one of a young doctor, Charles Farrer.  Dr Farrer starts as a young idealistic doctor, determined to prove to the medical community that sterilisation isn't the way to prevent the "spread" of mental health problems, that those who fall under the rather flaky 1911 idea of what constitutes mental 'deficiency' are quite capable of productivity.  Events then tease out his vulnerabilities and frustrations and twist them (and him), really shining a light on the hypocrisy and imbalance perpetuating asylums of that era.  Gradual and utterly believable.

The combination of the oppression of Sharston Asylum itself and of the soaring temperature creates a frazzled atmosphere.  There's an ever-increasing sense of urgency and the characters become progressively more fraught and almost desperate.  Towards the end of the novel, I was gripping my book so hard I was actually hurting my hands and just willing both the characters I loved and those I hated to get the endings they deserved.  I closed the novel in tears.  Admittedly, that's not necessarily something new for me but the ending of The Ballroom was a real sucker punch.  

Overall:  Anna Hope's writing and characters are beautiful and I just don't feel as though I can convey in a review quite why they're so terrific.  If you want to read historical fiction that will sneakily worm its way into your heart and stay there, I can think of few authors to recommend more highly than Anna Hope.

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Date finished: 18 December 2015
Format: Paperback (Advanced Reader's Copy)
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review - thanks, Doubleday!
Genre: Literary fiction; Historical fiction
Pictured Edition Published: on 11 February 2016 by Doubleday

The Ballroom is out on 11 February 2016 and you can pre-order now at The Book DepositoryAmazon or Waterstones.  You can also currently get Wake for your Kindle for a bargainous £1.99!