February 2008 Book Club Selection

Give this book 100 pages for character development and writing style.

A uniquely written novel with a plot you don't see everyday and an unexpected ending. This book explores what most period pieces do not, non-royalty life with flawed characters struggling to make it through each day.

After a year of discussing the idea of reading this book, my book group decided to read this last February. It is over 900 pages so give yourself time to read it - it is a quick read and a good vacation book.

Type: Historical fiction, 920 pages, trade paperback

Readers guide: No

Recommended for book groups: Yes, but expect crude language


At the Heart of this panoramic, multidimensional narrative is the compelling struggle of a young woman to lift her body and soul out of the gutter. Michel Faber leads us back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape into a better life. Her ascent through the strata of Victorian society offers us intimacy with a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters. They begin with William Rackham, an egotistical perfume magnate whose ambition is fueled by his lust for Sugar, and whose patronage of her brings her into proximity to his extended family and milieu: his unhinged, child-like wife, Agnes; his mysteriously hidden-away daughter, Sophie; and his pious brother Henry, foiled in his devotional calling by a persistently less-than-chaste love for the Widow Fox, whose efforts on behalf of The Rescue Society lead Henry into ever-more disturbing confrontations with flesh. All this is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all stripes and persuasions.

Twenty years in its conception, research, and writing, The Crimson Petal and the White is a singular literary achievement -- a gripping, intoxicating, deeply satisfying Victorian novel written with an immediacy, compassion, and insight that give it a timeless and universal appeal.