Monday 28 March 2011

REVIEW: Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters (4.5*)

(Virago, 1999)

The quote from The Independent on Sunday that graces the back of my edition, which describes the novel as 'a sexy and picaresque romp through the lesbian and queer demi-monde of the roaring Nineties', pretty much sums it up! It follows the fortunes of Nancy Astley, a Whitstable oyster girl whose life is turned upside down when she sees 'masher', or male impersonator, Kitty Butler performing at her local music hall and falls head-over-heels in love. Before she knows it she is employed as Kitty's dresser, and when an opportunity arises to go to London with her, she seizes it with both hands.

And so Nancy's new life begins. As she and Kitty become closer and closer, living together in a theatrical boarding house, she finds herself performing alongside her new sweetheart as a masher in a top-billing act, under the stage name Nan King. But betrayal is just around the corner, and from there Nancy's story is a whirlwind that takes her through the depths of despair into a career masquerading as a Soho renter, a spell as a spoilt and much-lauded 'kept boy' to a wealthy mistress, and finally on to contentment and happiness amongst the 'toms', or 'women-lovers', of the East End.

This was one of those books that I made a conscious effort to read carefully, slowing down and savouring the historical detail, the complex relationships between the wonderful characters, and the slow unfolding of Nancy's tale. The writing is superb, moving effortlessly between delicious description, earthy conversation and risque sexiness. Waters has obviously done a massive amount of research but wears her knowledge lightly - reading the book is like reading a classic novel, thoroughly comfortable in its period style and voice. It may have been my first Sarah Waters, but it definitely won't be my last!

Source: An old friend bought me this book as a birthday present.

Thursday 10 March 2011

REVIEW: Bloodstream, by Tess Gerritsen (4.5*)

(HarperCollinsPublishers, 2004)

This was my first Tess Gerritsen and one of my first forays into crime writing – and wow, I was impressed! Gerritsen delivers a taut medical thriller that had me glued to the pages from the start. When the teenagers of the ironically-named lakeside town of Tranquility, Maine, are gripped by a wave of murderous violence, new town GP Claire is determined to find out what’s behind the almost superhuman levels of aggression in the seemingly possessed adolescents. Casting aside the arguments of the locals, who seem to be more intent on holding onto their town’s image as a haven for tourists than saving their children, Claire must do everything in her power to find a medical cause for the crazed killing and mindless fighting - particularly since her fourteen year-old son Noah is at risk too. Is it drugs? Some local pathogen? A chemical spillage of some kind? And could it be linked to the spate of similar violence that the town has been trying to forget for nearly fifty years? Whatever it is, the race is on to put a stop to it before it’s too late…

I found the novel haunting, chilling and utterly compelling from start to finish. Every time I had to set it down to do something else, I found myself thinking about the terrible events that had happened so far, and trying to piece together all the clues to work out what was happening. It is a testament to the book’s strength that it pervaded every waking moment so thoroughly, and I found myself completely caught up in the excitement as the pages flew by, gasping with shock one moment and welling up with tears the next. At the same time, Gerritsen balances the horror of the town’s predicament with a dry humour, which was very refreshing and helped keep the story feeling grounded and human; it stopped it – and the reader – from getting too swept up in its own darkness. Highly recommended!

Source: I borrowed this book from our bookshop shelves.