my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

December 22nd, 2005

#63 – Tipping the Velvet

Let me get something straight, I have nothing against velvet, nor do I fear any tipping of it, but lord, this is the first book in a long, long time I really didn’t like. The story felt so contrived and soap-opera-inspired that I was bored mid-way through. And considering Sarah Waters’s epic is over 400 pages, that’s a lot of trudging to get to the end.

Generally, I love a good Victorian thriller, but this is neither thrilling nor purely Victorian. Oh, it’s chalk full of great historical tidbits—if I truly wanted to know that dildos existed in 1985, which I really didn’t need to know. And if tons of hideously cliched sex scenes get you off, well Tipping the Velvet is the book for you. Because it certainly wasn’t for me.

I don’t like it when books feel contrived. When they set out to prove a point more than tell a story. The story itself was a good one, a young girl in Victorian England leaves home when she falls in love with a music hall singer named Kitty Butler. When Kitty can’t face what life would be like coming out in that century, she betrays Nan, the protagonist, who then runs away.

A lot of other things happen to Nan before the story comes full circle toward the end as Nan joins a burgeoning socialist movement at the behest of her ‘sweetheart,’ a very noble and dedicated woman named Florence. But in the end, it felt too much like the author’s voice was interfering with Nan’s story. That characters were simply devices for her to explore the lesbian community in the 1890s, which I think is a fabulous goal, and if it felt organic, I’d be the first one to cheer from the rafters.

All in all I finished the book because it was a book club choice and I’m looking forward to debating why I hated it so much at our next meeting! After loving Fingersmith so much I was convinced I couldn’t go wrong suggesting the book, whew, how wrong was I.

Edited to add: Is a sex scene any less contrived because it takes place between women? Just because the sex in the novel is lesbian sex should I hold it to different literary standards? I don’t think I should, but this book, if you look at it in terms of shows like Queer as Folk where the point of the matter was to bash the viewer over the head with the idea of gay sex until they came to accept it, maybe I should be more sympathetic to the book. But if it’s badly written with ‘torn bodices’ and ‘panting’, it’s bad writing, regardless of its subject matter. However, the fact that it was her first novel might be worth mentioning. And Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith is truly excellent; there’s not a cliche in sight.

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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