Victorian Lust

SARAH WATERS reading Tuesday (February 26) at Innis College Town Hall Theatre (2 Sussex) at 7 pm. Free. 416-922-8744.FINGERSMITH by.


SARAH WATERS reading Tuesday (February 26) at Innis College Town Hall Theatre (2 Sussex) at 7 pm. Free. 416-922-8744.

FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters (Little Brown/H.B. Fenn), 532 pages, $26.95 cloth. Rating: NNNNN

Rating: NNNNN

think historical novels are stuffy and irrelevant? Meet Sarah Waters, currently the hottest — in every sense of the word — lesbian writer on the planet.The author of Tipping The Velvet, Affinity and now Fingersmith delivers the sizzle via stories set in the Victorian era. Yes, that uptight time when heat was hard to handle and seriously repressed.

Which is one of the things that make Waters’s fiction work.

“We do have a stereotype of the 19th century, and I like to get erotic mileage out of that,” says the Welsh-born author on the phone from Denver. Her North American tour brings her to Toronto Tuesday (February 26).

“Everything’s more loaded, even just a glance. It’s given me a lot of pleasure.”

Readers have felt that pleasure as Waters’s characters — whether at the dance hall, in a dank jail or at the centre of an elaborate fencing operation — struggle to survive.

In the new book, Fingersmith (a title that, typically for the author, has a whiff of sexuality even though the word actually means thief), Waters flexes her huge storytelling abilities in a twisting tale of exploitation and betrayal. It begins with fingersmith Susan becoming the servant of a wealthy heiress in a plot contrived with the creepy Mr. Rivers to steal the rich woman’s money. Then the story careens around some surprising corners.

As in her other books, Waters has no qualms about showing how women can do bad things to each other. But what looks like a paradox in an openly feminist writer is actually consistent with a compassionate view of women’s experience.

“I’m writing about a time that really gave birth to modern feminism,” she says. “I try to show that women do awful things because they’re in such nasty predicaments.

“What it does is create a lesbian fiction that is politically and emotionally charged in completely new ways.”Write Books at susanc@nowtoronto.com

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