Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Synopsis from Goodreads:
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves--fingersmiths--for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives--Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of--passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...
But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
What Hooked Me:
This enjoyable book delivered what it promised: an intricate plot that offers surprising multilayer unravelings with an unexpected and equally important emotional involvement to boot!! This convoluted plot is also the main reason that a lot of 'spoiler passages' from the last 150 pages of the book have been omitted from this post.
'My name in those days, was Susan Trinder. People called me Sue. I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date, and took my birthday at Christmas. I believe I am an orphan. My mother I know is dead. But I never saw her, she was nothing to me.'(opening lines)
'He never took chances: that's what made him so good. Everything that came into our kitchen looking like one sort of thing, was made to leave it again looking quite another. And though it had come in the front way -- the shop way, the Lant Street way -- it left by another way, too. It left by the back.'(13)
'In short, there was not much that was brought to our house that was not moved out of it again, rather sharpish. There was only one thing, in fact, that had come and got stuck -- one thing that had somehow withstood the tremendous pull of that passage of poke -- one thing that Mr Ibbs and Mrs Sucksby seemed never to think to put a price to.
I mean of course, Me.'(14)
'Dark nights are good to thieves and fencing-men; dark nights in winter are the best nights of all, for then regular people keep close to their homes, and the swells all keep to the country, and the grand houses of London are shut up and empty and pleading to be cracked. We got lots of stuff on nights like these, and Mr Ibbs's profits were higher than ever. The cold makes thieves come to a bargain very quick.'(17)
'We need a name that will hide you, not bring you to everyone's notice. We need a name' -- he thought it over -- 'an untraceable name, yet one we shall remember ... Brown? To match your dress? Or -- yes, why not? Let's make it, Smith. Susan Smith.' He smiled. 'You are to be a sort of smith, after all. This sort, I mean.'
He let his hand drop, and turned it, and crooked his middle finger; and the sign, and the word he meant -- fingersmith -- being Borough code for thief, we laughed again.'(37)
'She was certainly, then, what you would call original. But was she mad, or even half-way simple, as Gentleman said at Lant Street? I did not think so, then. I thought her only pretty lonely, and pretty bookish and bored -- as who wouldn't be, in a house like that?'(69)
'When Gentleman came, the show gave a kind of jog. There was a growling of the levers, people quivering for a second upon their sticks, the carving of one or two new grooves; and then it all went on, smooth as before, but with scenes in a different order.'(93)
'We were thinking of secrets. Real secrets, and snide. Too many to count. When I try now to sort out who knew what and who knew nothing, who knew everything and who was a fraud, I have to stop and give it up, it makes my head spin.'(95)
'She sleep at once, and heavily, as housemaids do. She smells of a violet facecream. Her gown has ribbons upon it, at the breast, and I find them out with my gloved hands and hold them while I wait for sleep to come -- as if I am tumbling into perfect darkness and they are the ropes that will save me.
I am telling you this so that you might appreciate the forces that work upon me, making me what I am.'(158)
'Perhaps children are like horses after all, and may be broken. My uncle returns to his mess of papers, dismissing us; and I go docilely back to my sewing. It is not the prospect of a whipping that makes me meek. It is what I know of the cruelty of patience. There is no patience so terrible as that of the deranged. I have seen lunatics labour at endless tasks -- conveying sand from one leaking cup into another; counting the stitches in a fraying gown, or the motes in a sunbeam; filling invisible ledgers with the resulting sums. Had they been gentlemen, and rich -- instead of women -- then perhaps they would have passed as scholars and commanded staffs. -- I cannot say.'(160)
'The world calls it pleasure. My uncle collects it -- keeps it ordered, on guarded shelves; but keeps it strangely -- not for its own sake, no, never for that; rather, as it provides fuel for the satisfying of a curious lust.
I mean, the lust of the bookman.'(165)
'On the contrary. How could it be a misfortune to be wise? I can never be deceived, for instance, in the matter of a gentleman's attentions. I am a connoisseur of all the varieties of methods by which a gentleman might seek to compliment a lady.'(177)
'The rareness of the article is relative to the desire of the heart that seeks it.'(179)
'We are not meant for common usage, my fellow books and I. My uncle keeps us separate from the world. He will call us poisons; he says we will hurt unguarded eyes. Then again, he names us his children, hid foundlings, that have come to him, from every corner of the world -- some rich and handsomely provided for, some shabby, some injured, some broken about the spine, some gaudy, some gross. For all that he speaks against them, I believe he likes the gross ones best; for they are the ones that other parents -- other bookmen and collectors, I mean -- cast out. I was like them, and had a home, and lost it --'(181)
'She will be distracted by the plot into which I shall draw her. She will be like everyone, putting on the things she sees the constructions she expects to find there.'(188)
'Don't misunderstand me. Don't think me more scrupulous than I am. It's true I shudder in fear -- fear of his plot -- fear of its success, as well as of its failure. But I tremble, too, at the boldness of him -- or rather, his boldness sets me quivering, as they say a vibrating string will find out unsuspected sympathies in the fibres of idle bodies. I saw in ten minutes what your life has made of you, he said to me, that first night. And then: I think you are half a villain already. He was right. If I never knew that villainy before -- or if, knowing it, I never named it -- I know it, name it, now.'(195)
'But I am not sorry, I am only amazed. Not to read! It seems to me a kind of fabulous insufficiency -- like the absence, in a martyr or a saint, of the capacity for pain.'(203)
'She lets one fall, and has not seen it: the two of hearts. I place my heel upon it, imagining on of the painted red hearts my own; and I grind it into the carpet.'(214)
'I wake to moan and long for slumber -- for always, at the last, comes the remembrance, sharp and fearful, of where I truly lie, how I arrived there, who and what I am.'(289)
'A tumbling stream of things -- not like the books that came to Briar, that came as if sinking to rest on the bed of a viscid sea, through dim and silent fathoms; nor like the things the books described, the things of convenience and purpose -- the chairs, the pillows, the beds, the curtains, the ropes, the rods...
There are no books, here. There is only life in all its awful chaos. And the only purpose the things are made to serve, is the making of money.'(301)
a Riverhead Book Nook edition