Jezebooks: Sarah Waters

If you haven’t read any Sarah Waters? Lady, are you in for a page-turning, spine-tingling, word-smithing, sexy treat! Four words: lesbian historical ghost stories.

Sarah waters describes her work as ‘lesbo historical romps,’ but while her meticulously-researched, erotic stories of mystery, thrills and the occult do an amazing job of “teasing out lesbian stories from parts of history that are regarded as quite heterosexual,” as she puts it, she’s far more than a “queer writer” – rather, she’s an amazing storyteller who happens to paint lesbian characters unusually well. Influenced by the gothic chills of Wilkie Collins and Henry James, Waters’ writing is engrossing and page-turning, but always deft, skillful, intelligent. To call her novels thinking women’s beach reads maybe does them a disservice, but at the same time, what could be better for a long weekend of uninterrupted reading? Her latest, The Little Stranger, takes us inside the crumbling estate and crumbling family of the Ayres; the result is both ghost story and family drama. It’s a bit of a departure for Waters, as it features a male narrator and more of a country-house-mystery set-up. We can’t wait, but If, like us, you’re at the mercy of libraries and paperbacks, start with her earlier catalogue:

Tipping the Velvet: Nancy Astley is an oyster-shucker in her parents’ restauarant in a Victorian seaside village. She falls in love with a male impersonator and travels to London, where her ups and downs include a music-hall career, a stint as a male prostitute and the kept woman of a wealthy and eccentric lesbian noblewoman, observing the upheaval of the country’s history along the way.

Affinity: An indolent, neurotic noblewoman in Victorian London, Margaret Prior becomes a volunteer at Millbank Prison. She begins a romance with the enigmatic prisoner Selina Dawes, behind bars for impersonating a medium, but seemingly possessed of supernatural powers. The novel tells the backstory of both women, blurring the line between real and magic, madness and sanity.

Fingersmith: Sue Trinder, an orphan raised by a band of thieves, is recruited by a con artist to help him ensnare a mysterious heiress, marry her, take her money and imprison her in a madhouse. Sue goes undercover as a maid in the heiress Maud’s house, but the two women fall in love. This one’s a thriller – a page-turner in the true sense – that must be read rather than spoiled.

Night Watch is told from four perspectives: Kay, an androgynous ambulance driver; writer Helen and her lover Julia; Viv, dating a married man; Duncan, an enigmatic ex-con living with a mysterious protectot. Through their eyes and their intricate interlocking narratives, we see the grim reality of Blitz London and its aftermath.

Sarah [Official Site]
Sarah Waters: ‘Is There A Poltergeist Within Me?’ [Independent]
Sarah Waters Interview [YouTube]
Sarah Waters On “Little Stranger,” Identity, And Lesbian Fiction [AfterEllen]

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