Lurid Tale of Victorian Lowlife; THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE by Michel Faber (Canongate, [Pounds Sterling]17.99)

By Gilfillan, Ross | Daily Mail (London), September 27, 2002 | Go to article overview

Lurid Tale of Victorian Lowlife; THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE by Michel Faber (Canongate, [Pounds Sterling]17.99)


Gilfillan, Ross, Daily Mail (London)


Byline: ROSS GILFILLAN

TOWARDS the end of Michel Faber's weighty novel, a little girl is asked:'Would you wish to read a book that was a thousand pages long?' It's a question you may ask yourself before picking up this monolith set in Victorian times, which is only 100 short of the mark.

In literature at least, size should be unimportant. But in an age where the fat novel is the province of the holiday blockbuster, its Victorian dimensions are as easy to ignore as St Pancras station.

But it's not only in length that Faber acknowledges literary conventions of that era, as he charts the rise of a canny prostitute through the strata of 19th-century society.

In early Victorian fiction, the narrator's voice is heard loud and clear; by the end of the reign, it has been all but banished. When Faber begins his tale with a visit to the rookery of St Giles, the reader is taken by the hand and directly addressed as an alien visitor.

The authorial voice softens as the novel progresses, and is replaced with finely detailed descriptions of the Victorian seaside, street and domestic life, reflecting the later period's move towards realism.

These techniques are, however, more incidental than integral and the story of Sugar, the precocious tart, and William Rackham, her mealticket, would stand up without such artifice. …

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