In the second installment of books for Women’s History Month, I decided to reread an old favorite historical fiction novel of mine: “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters.
The story opens with an introduction to Sue Trinder, an orphan and thief, living in the slums with her beloved mother-figure, Mrs. Sucksby, and her found family of thieves known as “fingersmiths.” One day, a con man and friend of Mrs. Sucksby known as Gentleman, presents Sue with an enticing proposal: to steal an inheritance. Maud Lily, an eccentric and sheltered young woman, is the sole heir of a vast fortune, but the fortune could be passed on through marriage. Because of this, Gentleman plots to marry her himself. The plan is for Sue to serve as Maud’s maid and aid Gentleman in seducing her and then, once they are wed, throw Maud into a madhouse and claim the inheritance as theirs. As a practiced thief with a lust for money, Sue agrees, though highlights that it is a bit morally bankrupt.
But as Sue begins to serve Maud, she begins to question herself and her surroundings. She feels immense guilt for what she plans to do with Maud and, after some time, this dissolves into a passionate love for her. But as the two women navigate their relationship, the plot becomes even more mysterious, for nothing is as it seems. Who really is Sue Trinder? What is Gentleman’s real plan? What does Maud Lily truly know?
“Fingersmith” serves as simultaneously a historical fiction novel, a murder mystery, and a lesbian love story. It is told in three parts — one for each twist — with each of the two lovers narrating. The writing style is reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel and often has been referred to as “lesbian Dickens” by reviewers online. Though I feel the need to mention a few small content warnings (sexual content, murder and manipulation), I find the story rather palatable and exciting, especially for those who love mysteries. The tone, twists and love between the protagonists makes this a thoroughly enjoyable book.