Affinity by Sarah Waters
Riverhead Books, 1999
Oversized Paperback, 402 pages
What Now? Donating to the library
I wish that Pa was with me now. I would ask him how he would start to write the story I have embarked upon to-day. I would ask him how he would neatly tell the story of a prison - of Millbank Prison - which has so many separate lives in it, and is so curious a shape, and must be approached, so darkly, through so many gates and twisting passages. pg. 8
One time, two years ago, I took a draught of morphia, meaning to end my life. My mother found me before the life was ended, the doctor drew the poison from my stomach with a syringe, and when I woke, it was to the sound of my own weeping. For I had hoped to open my eyes on Heaven, where my father was; and they had only pulled me back to Hell. 'You were careless with your life,' Selina said to me a month ago, ' but now I have it." - I knew then what I had been saved for. pg. 321
After Margaret Pryor's father's death, she had what seemed to be a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. Her mother saved her at the last minute. Margaret's mother, her brother Stephen and his wife Helen (who also used to be a very close friend to Margaret), and her childish sister Pris who is busy with wedding preparations all try to go on with their lives as if nothing has ever happened. Margaret receives "a dose" each evening from her mother to help her forget "all her old griefs." Margaret begins a community service project service of sorts, visiting Millbank Prison in London...specifically visiting and talking with the women prisoners there in the hopes that they will pick up some of the "goodness" of a woman of Margaret's class. At Millbank Margaret meets an inmate spiritualist named Selina Dawes who works at peeling away the layers of Margaret's fragile mind.
My Personal Response:
I so wanted to like this one. This was my first Sarah Waters and maybe I just started in the wrong place :( I will try another...I really will...but I will choose it wisely. I swear I was depressed by the end of this book...really and truly this story messed with my head. Don't get me wrong...I don't have to have a happy ending...but I don't want to be completely and totally frustrated at the end either...I swear I couldn't tell you WHY this story was written.
What I Liked:
The setting...the time period, the old homes and the prison...I toured Alcatraz a couple of years ago at sunset and I kept picturing the dark, spooky hallways and cells as I read.
Selina as friend or foe? I never could guess and was totally stunned at the end.
The descriptions are so vivid...I could see Margaret's surroundings, her bedroom, her mother, the difference between the house when it was full of people and when it was empty, the prison matrons, and the prison administration as well as London at night.
What I Didn't Like:
Part of the reason it's taken me so long to write this review is that I've been trying to figure out exactly what it was about this book that I just couldn't go along with. I don't know much historically about the women in prison thing during this timeframe and that might help me put together some of the pieces.
At best this story is depressing...and maybe it's supposed to be...when I finished this book I felt the same way I felt at the end of the movie Unfaithful with Richard Gere and Diana Lane...thinking I would have been just fine to have missed this boat.
SPOILER ALERT: I finally decided that this story is about Margaret Pryor's descent into madness. That's all I can figure out. If that's the premise, the book was done well because as the reader I slid right into madness with Margaret trying to figure out at times what the heck was going on.
The point of view switches...I didn't see the point? I got the connection between Selina and Margaret by the end...but all the back and forth did was confuse me before I knew there would be a connection. Is the book about Margaret...or Selina...how the heck is the reader supposed to know. If you pick the wrong character to care about, you'll be screwed in the end. I swear I felt like tossing this book across the room when I finally finished it.
The "ghost" Peter Quick...yeah, yeah I understand why Selina uses him...I just didn't like him.
There were times when Selina's plight reminded me of one of my favorite heroines of all time, Edna from The Awakening. However, even though both Edna and Margaret were overwhelmed with their lives and the world around them and could not find a place for themselves within the world where they're trapped, I never saw Edna as a victim. I really didn't. I felt sorry for Margaret from pg. 1 and just kept feeling sorry for her. How many times can a person be victimized?
My Overall Recommendation:
Obviously fans of Sarah Walters will want to read this book...others who might enjoy this might be those who enjoy psychological mysteries where the lines between real and imaginary are not clearly drawn; thus, the full culmination is never really reached...or is it?