Book Review: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber


The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Meet Sugar, a nineteen-year-old prostitute in Victorian London who yearns for escape to a better life. From the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, she begins her ascent through society. Beginning with William Rackham, a perfume magnate whose lust for Sugar soon begins to smell like love, she meets a host of lovable, maddening, unforgettable characters as her social rise is overseen by assorted preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds.

This is the story fo the well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who believes she can make a better life for herself. You read about the physical practicalities that a prostitute has to deal with – who protects them, what acts they have to perform, the degredations they have to accept (you learn for instance, what they have to endure in an attempt to avoid pregnancy).

Prostitution, rather than frowned upon in all levels of society, is indulged in by many of the wealthy/upper class men by the famous-but-secret publications highlighting where the brothels are, and giving establishments and individuals ratings as to the services provided.

When she is taken up by a wealthy man, the perfumer William Rackham, her wings are clipped and she must balance financial security against the obvious servitude of her position. The physical risks and hardships of Sugar’s life (and the even harder “honest” life she would have led as a factory worker) contrast–yet not entirely–with the medical mistreatment of her benefactor’s wife, Agnes. Agnes is mollycoddled and allowed to descend into clinical madness and death, all aggravated by the birth of a daughter.

Even though my edition came in at just under 1000 pages, I have to admit it came too soon for me (and many others, but not all apparently). In fact, after releasing it as a Bookcrossing book, this is one of the few books where I brought a second copy!


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