Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters

I know, I know, I’m reviewing a novel which isn’t a new release, shock horror!  I am almost up to date with review copies so I jumped at the chance to join in discussing the latest choice of the Virago Book Club, Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

I have read and really enjoyed all of Sarah Waters’ novels but for some reason I have left her first novel to be read last.  There’s something quite intiguing about reading an author’s work in this order as you see how they have developed their style, the seeds of future storylines are sown, they find out what works and what doesn’t.  It’s odd to think that 10 years ago the tv adaptation of  Tipping the Velvet caused such a furore when it hit the screens and not that many had actually read the book yet, ten years on Fifty Shades of Grey virtually becomes a national treasure.  (psst the difference is Sarah Waters is a wonderfully talented storyteller who happens to include some sex scenes whilst E L James is……..).

Anyway, I digress….Tipping the Velvet showcases Sarah Waters’ talents as a supreme storyteller as she drags you kicking and screaming into Victorian England, from the oyster huts of Whistable to the sights and sounds of the music halls in London.  Our narrator, young Nancy Astley falls for Kitty Butler, “masher” extraordinaire, who beguiles both sexes with her impersonations of a young dandy.  Is it love or lust or just forbidden love doomed to failure?

None of the characters are particularly appealing or likeable but they are eminently interesting with all their flaws and foibles exposed.  Nan and her first love, Kitty, are both rather selfish and perhaps the reader isn’t totally sympathetic when the girls  discover the streets of London are not the golden pathways they expected.  Nan’s journey of self-discovery leads her to very dark places, there are scenes which might upset anyone leaning towards prudishness *dildo alert* but if you are of a less sensitive nature you will relish this rambunctious coming of age tale filled with Dickensian characters and Victorian melodrama.

Sarah Waters’ later works seem a lot tamer in comparison but you can see how she has developed and honed her storytelling skills and her eye for detail and historical ambiance has always been at the fore.  Relationships, social mores, class issues are frequent themes in her writing whatever the decade being placed under the microscope and you can be sure that she has done the groundwork to bring you an authentic experience.  All I need now is for her to write another novel…..

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  1. I must read something by Sarah Waters soon, especially as I love Victorian settings. Is this one a good one to start with?

  2. Teresa says:

    Sam, my favourite is Fingersmith but Affinity is also set in a Victorian setting. Both are very good reads.

  3. JoAnn says:

    I’ve enjoyed a couple of Waters’ novels and picked this up at the library book sale last summer… can’t wait to read it!

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