4.01 (51,673 ratings by Goodreads)
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The book that inspired Park Chan-wook's astonishing film The Handmaiden. Shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize London 1862. Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, grows up among petty thieves - fingersmiths - under the rough but loving care of Mrs Sucksby and her 'family'. But from the moment she draws breath, Sue's fate is linked to that of another orphan growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles more

Product details

  • Paperback | 560 pages
  • 126 x 194 x 40mm | 480.81g
  • Little, Brown Book Group
  • Virago Press Ltd
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1860498833
  • 9781860498831
  • 2,317

Review quote

'It is a rare pleasure to discover a writer as assured as Waters' Joan Smith, Sunday Times 'A chilling, ingenious erotic thriller - unputdownable' Sunday Express 'Sarah Waters is one of the best storytellers alive today.sooner or later she's going to be given the Booker' Matt Thorne, Independent on Sunday 'An extraordinarily good novel' Douglas Kennedy, Mail on Sundayshow more

About Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters was born in Wales in 1966. She has a Ph.D in English Literature and has lectured for the Open University. She lives in more

Review Text

This novel, whose narrative centres around the difference between faked and genuine wooing, is itself irresistibly seductive. It is 1862 and Susan, a teenage 'fingersmith' brought up in a Southwark thieves' kitchen, describes how she is recruited by a gentlemanly rogue to take part in a plot involving a young heiress living a nightmarish existence in a big country-house. The heiress, Maud, is being exploited and ill-treated by her uncle. (The true nature of that exploitation is revealed only much later in one of the novel's ingenious surprises.) The plan is that Susan will become Maud's maid and help the rogue to seduce her, elope with and marry her, get his hands on her fortune, and then disembarrass himself of her. Light-heartedly the girl plunges into her role in this nefarious undertaking, overcoming her scruples for a share of the fortune. All is not as it seems, however, and there is a stunning surprise in store for her and the reader. But the novel is concerned with more than just plot twists. For in spite of the adversarial roles they are playing and across the barriers of birth, education, and wealth, the two girls find they are powerfully drawn to each other. As the novel unfolds, those barriers will turn out to be illusory in various ways as the power of love - maternal as well as sexual - shows itself able to defy convention, to defeat conspiracies, to forgive wrongs and even to make possible the ultimate sacrifice. With a melodramatic situation as a metaphor for a psychological and moral conundrum and with a liberal sprinkling of plots, impersonations, madhouses, heiresses, and dramatic revelations, we are clearly in Wilkie Collins territory. That aspect of the novel is done extremely well and the narrative tension is maintained with only a slight faltering towards the end. But the author takes advantage of modern freedom to explore aspects of sexuality that a Victorian novelist could barely hint at and in doing so intriguingly illuminates a historical reality which the fiction of that period largely ignores. This is a gripping and a thought-provoking novel. Review by Charles Palliser (Kirkus UK)show more

Rating details

51,673 ratings
4.01 out of 5 stars
5 37% (18,943)
4 38% (19,535)
3 18% (9,531)
2 5% (2,612)
1 2% (1,052)

Our customer reviews

An amazing read that details the destiny of two women & their lives borne of the social reality in 1860's England. Waters' prose will have your every sense transported to the psychologically, physically & emotionally stifling settings within this epic. With more twists & turns than a ravaged woman's petticoats secrets are guarded so closely & with such dire outcomes. After reading this I feel incredibly grateful that I did not live in that period but truly appreciative of the vicarious experience Waters has provided here. Such is her skill all her books transport me from page 1 but for me this is her best yet. After reading this you may ponder if are we more than the environment from which we came. Unfortunately it's still a valid question for many women in 2012. At least 50% of the population should read this. The other 50% should listen attentively when we talk about more
by Lisa Preston
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