The Crimson Petal and the White

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The Crimson Petal And The White – Michel Faber

Published February 6, 2019 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sugar, 19, prostitute in Victorian London, yearns for a better life. From brutal brothel-keeper Mrs Castaway, she ascends in society. Affections of self-involved perfume magnate William Rackham soon smells like love. Her social rise attracts preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds.

What did I think?:

I have picked up my laptop to start writing my review of The Crimson Petal And The White and literally just stared at the screen for ten minutes. I’ll tell you the issue – this is one of my all-time favourite books that I read initially before I started blogging and re-read recently (as part of my reading three books at a time thing – one fiction, one non-fiction and one favourite). For some reason, I find reviewing a five star book that I absolutely adored a LOT harder than reviewing a three or four star read or even a book I’ve been a bit more critical of. Does anyone else get this? I mean, there’s only so many adjectives out there in the world that I could possibly use to describe a novel like this and with Crimson Petal? Just all the positive adjectives. Every single one of them.

There’s only one word I can use to describe this story in my opinion (thankfully, that isn’t an adjective haha!) and that’s a masterpiece. This entire narrative is sumptuous, rich, lyrical, gritty and even though the size of the novel might be slightly intimidating, every single page is worth your effort. When I sat down to re-read it, there’s always a worry that I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much this time round but my anxiety was soon squashed as soon as I entered the seedier parts of Victorian London and re-acquainted myself with the fascinating and unforgettable characters that Michel Faber has created.

Michel Faber, author of The Crimson Petal And The White.

Just like the first time I read it, the story of Sugar and the means by which she is raised from squalor by a rich benefactor, William Rackham reverberated with me and has stayed with me weeks after re-reading it. I can only attribute this to the power Michel Faber has not only with his words and creating characters that you want to read about but his mastery in developing a world that reeks of authenticity and is both vibrant and colourful. It might not be a story for everyone – it’s quite sexually graphic at points (it follows a prostitute, what do you expect really?) but at no points did I feel it was ever gratuitous or unnecessary. Every character is brought to life, vividly and expertly by the strength of Faber’s imagination and as I read, I felt like each individual had their own voice and story to tell. They are so well-drawn and so available to the reader that believe me, you want to listen to what they’ve got to say.

Romola Garai and Chris O’Dowd as Sugar and William Rackham in the TV adaptation of The Crimson Petal And The White (also highly recommended).

There are occasional moments of real hideousness in this novel. I mean, quite dark, disturbing instances that require an open mind and knowledge of the fact that times were incredibly hard, especially for those in poverty in 1870’s London. The author is refreshingly honest and exceptionally brutal with his characters’ past, present and futures but for me, it was nothing but brilliant as I could never completely predict where their journey would take them next. With Crimson Petal you get the whole range of humanity from the very low and humble to the excessively rich and arrogant. Watching two such different people collide with the repercussions it has for themselves and people around them was endlessly intriguing.

If the word “epic” means anything to you, it describes everything that is right with this novel from the glorious cast of characters to the difficulties of poverty and additionally, the vast differences between the genders in such a patriarchal society. I re-read this book quite slowly alongside a couple of others as I mentioned and it took me quite a number of months to complete it but to be perfectly honest, I read it deliberately slow because it seems as if every time I pick up this book, I never want it to end.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Short Stories Challenge – The Apple by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories

Published April 26, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s The Apple all about?:

Michel Faber revisits the world of his best-selling novel The Crimson Petal and the White, conjuring tantalising glimpses of its characters, their lives before we first met them and their intriguing futures. You’ll be desperate for more by the time you reluctantly re-emerge into the twenty-first century. In the Apple, we return to the story of our main character Sugar whom in this tale is becoming slightly irked by an evangelist singing outside her window.

What did I think?:

As I’ve mentioned before in previous reviews of stories in this collection, it’s probably best to read Faber’s masterful novel The Crimson Petal and the White before embarking on any of these stories where we catch up with the characters from the novel. Some of the stories are prequels to the events in the novel and some reveal what happened next. They can all equally be read as stand-alones but to to get a real idea of the characters, I would recommend reading the novel first. The Apple has to be one of my favourite stories in this collection. We return to the life of the main character Sugar, an intelligent and independent young woman who has been forced into a life of prostitution to make ends meet.

As the story begins, Sugar is in bed sleeping off yet another night with a lusty gentleman when she is rudely awoken by the sound of a female evangelist singing at the top of her voice about sin and being a good Christian deliberately in the knowledge that she is outside a brothel. Sugar is enraged, even more so when the woman spies her leaning out of the window and continues to sing, all the more determined to deliver her message from God. Sugar is sorely tempted to fish “a turd” out of her chamberpot and throw it at the woman to show her “God’s mercy” but reasons with herself that this would waste a good glove.

Instead, Sugar busies herself with reading, she is in the middle of some works by Trollope but soon enough this too inflames her already terrible mood:

“In every story she reads, the women are limp and spineless and insufferably virtuous. They harbour no hatred, they think only of marriage, they don’t exist below the neck, they eat but never shit. Where are the authentic, flesh-and-blood women in modern English fiction? There aren’t any!”

Sugar is starting to believe that if she ever wants the truth about women in fiction, she would have to write it herself. Prominent authors at the time seemed to believe that they had to treat women gently, as if the brain they possessed was good for nothing but seducing men and mothering. After all, they are such fragile creatures that need things explained “in simplified terms that ignorant young ladies and dim-witted matrons can understand.” Looking out upon the evangelist, Sugar sees that she has a young child with her and is attempting to give the child an apple yet the child is upset and crying so the woman slaps her. Sugar is incensed and without thinking, runs out of the brothel without dressing properly to chastise the woman but when she gets downstairs the evangelist has disappeared. The apple has been left behind and Sugar, silently seething, takes it so that she can have something to throw if the woman ever returns.

This was one of the shorter stories in the collection but a real gem in my opinion. I love the fierceness of Sugar’s character and really enjoyed being back in her world. The author makes some fantastic insights into the lives of women at this time and writing like the quote I displayed above serves its purpose perfectly. Faber never fails to shock or enlighten his reader and whenever I’m reading something by him, I get a delicious thrill of never knowing what to expect next. There is one perhaps more controversial quote in this short story that my sister, Chrissi Reads has touched on in a discussion post HERE:

“Reading, by its very nature, is an admission of defeat, a ritual of self-humiliation. It shows that you believe other lives are more interesting than yours.”

Whatever your thoughts on this statement (and mine were to COMPLETELY disagree!) there is no doubt that Faber is a writer that pulls you in, makes you feel a range of emotions and leaves you (hopefully) quite satisfied at the end. For this story, this was definitely the case for me.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)


Short Stories Challenge – The Fly, and Its Effect upon Mr Bodley by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Published November 20, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s The Fly, and Its Effect upon Mr Bodley all about?:

Michel Faber revisits the world of his bestselling novel The Crimson Petal and the White, conjuring tantalising glimpses of its characters, their lives before we first met them and their intriguing futures. You’ll be desperate for more by the time you reluctantly re-emerge into the twenty-first century. The Fly, and Its Effect Upon Mr Bodley follows Mr Bodley as he has an epiphany on life after watching a fly in the most peculiar of places.

What did I think?:

I’ve had a bit of trouble deciding how exactly I’m going to write this review but I’m going to carry on typing and see where the momentum takes me! Our main character is Mr Bodley, a regular “user” of the prostitutes at the infamous Mrs Tremain’s brothel in Fitzrovia. One morning, Mrs Tremain opens her door to a quite different gentleman, “bleary-eyed,” and “desperate-looking,” which is considerably different from his usual demeanour. Furthermore, it is rather early on the whole for him to be contemplating a bit of a good time and he is without his partner in crime and best friend Mr Ashwell which in itself is rather disturbing as the two men are known to be inseparable. Upon further interrogation, it is clear that something terrible must have happened to Mr Bodley:

“The willingness of comely girls, the novelty of foreign flesh, the smell of strawberries – none of these things can mean anything to me now… In this house, the candleflame of my manhood was snuffed out.”

Of course this is incredibly worrying for Mrs Tremain, Mr Bodley being one of her best customers and all, so she begs him to tell him what has happened so she may set it right. He explains that when he was last at the house and things began to get er… slightly more intimate with one of the girls, a fly came in and settled itself on her left buttock. Mrs Tremain’s defence of her establishment is one of the most hilarious passages I have read:

“We keep a clean house, sir. The Queen’s palace won’t be so clean, I’ll wager. But we must keep it ventilated, sir. That’s part of good health: ventilation. And where there’s an open window, a fly may enter. And even be so bold as to settle on a girl’s bottom.”

But Mr Bodley does not think it is the fly so much, after all he left feeling rather satisfied, job completed. It is only afterwards that he begins thinking about things more deeply. Flies and what they feed on, flies laying eggs, and how when we die our decomposing bodies crawl with maggots that arise from the eggs that are laid by flies! Even the offer from Mrs Tremain of the same girl who she assures him is very much alive and maggoty-free, or a new girl, Lily free of charge cannot tempt him or cheer him in any way. We live, then we die – what is the point in it all? Luckily for him, Mrs Tremain has an answer and a prescription for his melancholy that has him soon sleeping soundly, quite literally.

I think as with all the stories in this collection, you need to have read the author’s fantastic novel, The Crimson Petal And The White, as it involves the same characters. Fans of The Crimson will love it and the humour in it is knock your socks off, laugh out loud funny, so is definitely worth a read. I also love that Michel Faber is not afraid to explore the dark side of human nature, take a few risks and be blatantly crude in places. However, it probably isn’t for the easily offended or innocent! Really enjoying this collection so far, and looking forward to the next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Busted by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)


Short Stories Challenge – Chocolate Hearts From The New World by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Published June 17, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s Chocolate Hearts From The New World all about?:

Michel Faber revisits the world of his bestselling novel The Crimson Petal and the White, conjuring tantalising glimpses of its characters, their lives before we first met them and their intriguing futures. You’ll be desperate for more by the time you reluctantly re-emerge into the twenty-first century.

This story involves the characters of Dr Curlew and his daughter Emmeline who is a strident protester against slavery, and centres on a letter that she receives from one of the men she writes to in the hope that he will free the slaves he employs.

What did I think?:

Chocolate Hearts From The New World is the third story in Michel Faber’s collection that offers the reader the opportunity to re-visit beloved characters from the marvellous novel The Crimson Petal and the White. Some of the stories in this collection take on the characters past and some the future, which is a brilliant touch in my opinion by the author in giving die-hard Crimson Petal fans a bit more information about the unforgettable and sometimes eccentric people in the novel. The characters in this story are Dr Curlew who was the Rackham family physician, and his daughter Emmeline – often cruelly described as “horse-faced.” It looks back on her adolescent years where her father was desperately worried that she only had five good years left to find a husband, even to the point where he describes her as his “unfortunate” daughter. You see:

“The same physical features that made him such a distinguished-looking man – tall, rangy build, aquiline nose, long face, strong jaw – were a calamitous inheritance for a girl. If she acted quickly, while she was in her teens, there was still hope.”

Charming, you might think! But he redeems himself slightly when he suggests that she is “blameless,” it was him after all that passed the infamous jaw down to her and declares that when she smiles she is quite winsome with dimples in her cheeks, bright eyes, an unlined face and glossy hair. It is obvious that he loves his daughter a great deal as although he is worried for her marriage prospects as he refuses to argue with her on the subject as that would have upset his late wife. His hopes are buoyed however when he learns that she has been corresponding with a few men in America – even if it is merely to chide them on their use of slaves, quoting passages from the Bible and pleading to their better nature.

I really enjoyed the character of Emmeline in this short story, she seems independent, spirited and while respectful of her father, able to voice and be confident in her own opinion. It was quite amusing to read that when she got a few heated replies to her many letters, she was able to write back saying that she hoped that the Lord would forgive them “for your unkind and, if I may say so, blasphemous words…”  Then comes a rather different reply that Emmeline has not bargained for consisting of a long letter with the gentleman’s reasoning behind his choice to employ slaves, a bit of flattery, a bit of hope for the future (especially from Dr Curlew’s point of view!) and best of all, a box of expensive looking chocolates. What’s a girl to do?

This was a lovely little story that I enjoyed more and more as I continued to think about it, and is another example of some beautiful and introspective writing from Michel Faber. With his writing, even with the short stories, it almost feels like you are sat at a table with the characters, or are listening to them as their closest confidant. I am eagerly anticipating the next story in the collection which concerns Mr Bodley, William Rackham’s obnoxious friend whom I remember vividly and with slight disgust from the novel.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Snatched by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Short Stories Challenge – Christmas In Silver Street, Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Published September 12, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

What’s Christmas In Silver Street all about?:

In this collection, Michael Faber revisits the world of his bestselling novel, “The Crimson Petal & White”, briefly opening doors onto the lives of its characters to give us tantalising glimpses of where they sprang from and what happened to them. In the first story – Christmas on Silver Street everyone’s favourite prostitute Sugar takes pity on the small boy who works in the brothel, and aims to give him a Christmas he will never forget.

What did I think?:

When I first saw this short story collection by Michel Faber, I knew I had to have it. I thoroughly enjoyed The Crimson Petal & White when I first read it a few years ago, and felt quite bereft at its ending. Now Sugar and the gang are back, giving us an exciting insight into their hard and impoverished lives in a cruel 19th Century world once more. The first story is incredibly short, (perhaps a bit too short?) which makes it a bit difficult to review on its own, but is quite a heart-warming tale, and a nice introduction and re-visit of the characters. It is Christmas, and Sugar feels desperately sorry for Christopher, a young boy who works at the brothel she lives and works in. He has the unenviable job of collecting the dirty sheets from the working girls, and taking them to be laundered. When he talks to Sugar about Christmas, she realises that he has never had a Christmas present and does not know the luxury or delight of Christmas dinner, so resolves to go out and procure some items to make it a decent Christmas for him. This is a wonderful ruse by the author of showing the reader the sentimental side of Sugar, which we rarely see, as she has to be focused on “business” for her customers. I think the reader does benefit from having read Faber’s original novel (or at least having seen the recent TV series), but I was slightly disappointed by how short this story was. On a positive note however, it has made me eager to finish the collection, and I am looking forward to the rest of the stories.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Blessing of Brokenness by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)