Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters A friend once told me she doesn't like historical lesfic because the sex is so underwhelming and I agree. Until I read this book. ;) An amazon reviewer calls it 'Victorian porn'--sounds like an oxymoron, doesnt it? Unabashed eroticism in a period of prudishness and high morality. In the context of modern lesfic, this book isn't much more erotic than our usual diet of lesfic romances. But perhaps the idea of same sex relationships, and some of the more risque situations and uhm...maneuvers made readers uncomfortable. :) I do wonder though, how they missed the masterful writing, the attention to detail, the amazing characterizations, and all the other little things that elevate this book to a classic.

'Tipping' follows the adventures of a young lady from her humble oyster-girl beginnings, to her accidental but no less impressive rise fronting London's performance halls, to her fall into ignominy along the back alleys of the city and the dark recesses of secret clubs and gatherings and her eventual attempt at redemption. It is a lush and sensous tale about a young woman's coming-of-age and coming-out. We get to see another side of Victorian-era London that we rarely read about, populated by mashers, toms, renters, mary-annes, tarts, (translatio: male impersonators, lesbians, prostitutes, ???) and their patrons and keepers.

The book is a feast for the senses. The sights, sounds and smells of places like the oyster parlors in Whistable, the rowdy halls in Canterbury and West End, the dank london back alleys, the dreary working-class neighborhoods--all are so vividly illustrated we are instantly transported there. All the characters are so well drawn, most especially the main character Nan. Love her or hate her, it's impossible not to feel for her. There is a long stretch in the book where Nan descends into a self-pitying and self-absorbed mess, and buries herself in the hedonistic pleasures provided by the rich and idle. I considered not finishing the book at this point, but the excellent writing and the promise of better things to come (I peeked at reviews ;) kept me reading. And what a reward it was.