BKMT READING GUIDES



 
Pointless,
Slow,
Boring

2 reviews

The Crimson Petal and the White
by Michel Faber

Published: 2003-09-01
Kindle Edition : 922 pages
13 members reading this now
4 clubs reading this now
5 members have read this book
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. 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 ...
No other editions available.
Add to Club Selections
Add to Possible Club Selections
Add to My Personal Queue
Jump to

Introduction

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. Faber leads readers back to 1870s London, where Sugar, a 19-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs. Castaway, yearns for escape to a better life.

Editorial Review

Although it's billed as "the first great 19th-century novel of the 21st century," The Crimson Petal and the White is anything but Victorian. The story of a well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who spends her free hours composing a violent, pornographic screed against men, Michel Faber's dazzling second novel dares to go where George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and the works of Charles Dickens could not. We learn about the positions and orifices that Sugar and her clients favor, about her lingering skin condition, and about the suspect ingredients of her prophylactic douches. Still, Sugar believes she can make a better life for herself. 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, and beautifully underscore Faber's emphasis on class and sexual politics. In theme and treatment, this is a novel that Virginia Woolf might have written, had she been born 70 years later. The language, however, is Faber's own--brisk and elastic--and, after an awkward opening, the plethora of detail he offers (costume, food, manners, cheap stage performances, the London streets) slides effortlessly into his forward-moving sentences. When Agnes goes mad, for instance, "she sings on and on, while the house is discreetly dusted all around her and, in the concealed and subterranean kitchen, a naked duck, limp and faintly steaming, spreads its pimpled legs on a draining board." Despite its 800-plus pages, The Crimson Petal and the White turns out to be a quick read, since it is truly impossible to put down. --Regina Marler

Excerpt

No Excerpt Currently Available

Discussion Questions

Questions from the Publisher's Reading Guide:

Q> The novel's title implies the distinction between virtue and immorality. In your opinion, who are the sinister characters in the book? Who are the heroes and heroines?

Q> What makes the late nineteenth century such an appropriate time period for this narrative? How might the storyline have played out in the twenty-first century?

Q> Temptation and cravings fuel much of the novel's plot. By your own standards, are the characters shockingly lacking in self-control? Or do you feel they cope well in the circumstances?

Q> Do you detect any common denominator among the novel's female characters (especially Sugar, Agnes, Mrs. Fox, and Mrs. Castaway) in spite of their seemingly disparate motivations?

Q> William receives nearly constant assistance from various hired women. In what way is Sugar's subservience different from that of the other servants, both before and after she becomes Sophie's governess?

Q> The Crimson Petal and the White contains dozens of religious references, including Sugar's being mistaken for an angel, Agnes's superstitious hunger for Catholicism, The Rescue Society's moral mission, the radical proposals in The Efficacy of Prayer, and debates about creationism. Is religion harmful or beneficial to the characters in this novel?

Q> The theme of cleanliness versus filth pervades the novel, with William's products nearly comprising an additional character. Considering the fact that even the upper-crust residents of Notting Hill had to do without indoor plumbing, what is the effect of these details about ablutions?

Q> Critics have compared Michel Faber to many literary lions, ranging from Charles Dickens to Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Franzen. In what ways does literature appear to have evolved over the past two centuries?

Q> How does Michel Faber keep the reader hooked and entertained throughout a lengthy epic? Did the devices work for you?

Q> Does any authentic love occur in the novel? Are Sugar and William in love?

Q> William's pious brother is the extreme opposite of Ashwell and Bodley. Do these minor male characters in any way reflect aspects of William's persona? Do you believe that Ashwell and Bodley were merely included for comic relief? Discuss the irony of Henry's death.

Q> The characters in The Crimson Petal and the White live under the shroud of considerable misinformation, including Doctor Curlew's inability to diagnose Agnes's brain tumor and Sugar's rudimentary birth-control methods. Would modern medicine have kept their lives trouble-free?

Q> Discuss Sugar's transformation from no-nonsense prostitute to maternal romantic. What role did the ironically named Priory Close location play in this transformation? What choices would you have made had you been born into Sugar's circumstances?

Q> For all its Victorian trappings, The Crimson Petal and the White also showcases some expert postmodern features, such as a narrator who frequently reminds us that we are reading a novel-his novel-and that he will decide which point of view we receive in each scene. In what way does this narrator act as a kind of literary seducer, luring us to follow him to the very end? How do the novels within the novel (Sugar's sadistic bodice-ripper, and Agnes's imaginative diaries) affect your reading experience?

Q> The novel ends by posing a terrific "what if." Speculate about the futures of Sophie and Sugar. Why do you suppose the author chose to give the closing line to Caroline? What might this suggest about William's fate?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "The Crimson Petal and the White"by maggiehunnel (see profile) 03/10/10

it was long and drawn out and it leaves you wondering

 
  "Slow, slow, slow....."by tahjara (see profile) 03/09/10

 
  "2.6/5 rated 1-4 by 5 members"by mindyhayes (see profile) 01/26/09

 
  "the story of a woman trying to claw her way to the top in a society that requires you be born into respect"by nancy713 (see profile) 11/16/06

I could not wait to see what happens to Sugar, I was always rooting for her to make the right choices and better her life...she is drawn into the trap that woman through the ages has always fallen for.....the... (read more)

 
  "Set in 1870s London, Faber's second novel is a powerful portrayal of a young prostitute named Sugar. Intelligent and ambitious, Sugar yearns to escape from the livelihood forced on her at age 13. Ente"by avsjen (see profile) 07/29/06

A fabulously rich and evocative novel told from different narrators' voices. Some of the language is crude, made more so because of the strong overlay of Victorian, proper England. The true dichotomy between... (read more)

Rate this book
MEMBER LOGIN
Remember me
BECOME A MEMBER it's free

Join the leading website for book clubs with over 35,000 clubs and 20,000 reading guides.

SEARCH OUR READING GUIDES Search
Search


FEATURED EVENTS
PAST AUTHOR CHATS
JOIN OUR MAILING LIST

Get free weekly updates on top club picks, book giveaways, author events and more
Please wait...