William Rackham

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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 – Medicine by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

Published September 12, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s Medicine all about?:

Medicine is a short story which focuses on William Rackham, more specifically how far he has fallen since his days with heroine Sugar.

What did I think?:

With Medicine, once more we are taken down into the seedy Victorian world first created in the brilliant The Crimson Petal And The White. It is the turn of William Rackman, the major male character in the mentioned novel and my, how his life has changed! We meet him in one of his private rooms, taking pills for one of the many illnesses he appears to be afflicted with and travel with him on his ramblings and self-pity as he recalls better days. He seems to rail and curse at the woman he was most enamoured with years ago, no, not his wife Agnes, but a prostitute called Sugar who he let into his house and who he blames for everything that has happened as a result. First for the death of his poor, innocent and sweet wife Agnes who he feels he could have “rescued,” if it wasn’t for that bloody woman Sugar who ruined his life.

Williams has now taken a new wife, Constance and she appears to be a steady presence in his life even if the two hardly speak any longer and lead pretty much separate lives. He comforts himself that he should go and visit his lavender fields but no, all of that reminds him of Sugar and how they used to wander the fields when he was obsessed with her. Oh yes, and now his business has gone to ruin, that is also the fault of Sugar. He is feeling pretty much hard done by and has nothing to show for his years of slog in the manufacture of his soaps – shops are refusing to stock his goods while the paperwork and debts mount up. And then there is this blasted illness:

“William Rackham stares at the vista in dismay. If he summons a servant to clean up the mess, she will take one look at his desk, and another at his guilty face, and judge him to be no better than a helpless infant. But surely a man of his standing should not be cleaning up snot? And what should he use to clean it if he did? His handkerchief is white silk, and his desk is stained with ink, mottled with dusting-powder and, to be quite frank, a little mildewy on parts of the leather surface. His sleeve…Almighty God, is this a fair fate for a man who has already suffered a thousand humiliations? Wiping up snot with his sleeve?”

His new wife Constance has been unable to provide him with an heir to his business and that gets him thinking once again of the child he does have in the world (who disappeared with that harlot, Sugar) rendering him angry and very melancholy. A dizzy spell causes him to pass out for a while and hallucinate that Sugar is with him again, touching his face, ready to lead him once again into happiness but it is his loyal servant Letty who brings him round with a slap to his face reminding him once again of what he had, what he lost and what he has right now – burdens, anger and regret.

As I read Medicine I was instantly transported back into Faber’s world and enjoyed his exquisite prose and occasionally blunt manner of writing. Unfortunately, this wasn’t my favourite story in the collection but it was by no means the worst either. I enjoyed reading about the life of William Rackham after the events penned in the novel and I’m afraid that I didn’t really feel one iota of sympathy towards him. In a way, he came off worse in this short story than he did in The Crimson Petal And The White. William blames everyone else (especially Sugar) for the troubles he has suffered and his character moaned and whined so much that it was almost a relief when the story ended. Saying this, I am looking forward to the next story in the collection!

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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)