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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Aptly described by the publisher as "the first great nineteenth-century novel of the twenty-first century," Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White is an authentic evocation of Victorian London that recalls the triple-decker extravaganzas of Eliot, Trollope and, of course, Dickens.
Writing in a clear, seductive voice that draws you effortlessly in, Faber depicts a very real city populated by a deeply credible gallery of flawed, struggling souls. Included among them are Caroline, an ignorant low-class streetwalker; Mrs. Castaway, a vicious brothel keeper; William Rackham, a self-involved perfume magnate; and Sugar, a remarkably well-read teenage prostitute who believes in "the reality of dreams." Sugar's particular dreams -- of escape, of rising above her circumstances -- and her relationships -- with Mrs. Castaway, with Rackham and his peculiar family -- dominate the novel, which illuminates virtually every level of Victorian society, warts and all. Faber, who spent more than 20 years researching and developing his panoramic narrative, writes with absolute confidence and a lively, enthralling attention to detail.
Resolutely modern in its sexual frankness but steeped in the ambiance of an earlier age, The Crimson Petal and the White is unlike anything in recent fiction. Charles Palliser's The Quincunx, which brought a similar breadth of research and imagination to its sprawling portrait of Victorian social inequities, is its closest contemporary literary sibling. Admirers of The Quincunx -- and of the 19th century masterpieces that served as its primary models -- will lose themselves for days at a time in this rich, thoroughly convincing novel. Bill Sheehan