Affinity by Sarah Waters

17 April, 2010

I’ve been meaning to read this book for ages, since I finished The Night Watch last year (which I loved, loved, loved), and had heard many nice things about it, and I finally did! And since I also wanted to watch the TV adaptation, I thought I’d post a joint review similar to that posted by su[shu] for Murakami Haruki’s Tony Takitani.

Unlike the majority of Sarah Waters’ fans, I fell in love with her writing starting with The Little Stranger followed by The Night Watch. I had previously read Fingersmith when it was first published in 2002 and don’t recall it having any serious impact on me. But it looks as though Fingersmith seems to be everyone’s favourite book, so I’ve got a copy on standby for a re-read in the near future.

There is something magical about Waters’ prose. It starts out quietly, silently and slowly draws you in, deeper and wanting more. That was how I felt when reading Affinity. The Night Watch had such an impact on me that I thought somehow I may have been spoilt and not find Affinity as enjoyable. Certainly the style was different, and so was the setting and plot. But Affinity had such atmosphere and, like the main character Margaret, I was completely taken in.

The story begins with Margaret Prior, a spinster in her late twenties, who is recovering from her beloved father’s death. To occupy herself, she has volunteered to go and spend some time talking to and helping the female inmates of Millbank Prison. Here she meets women outside her social circle and discovers Selina Dawes, a spiritual medium who is serving five years for causing harm to a young girl and, indirectly, the death of her patron. Margaret is fascinated by Selina who insists that it was Peter Quick, her spirit conduit who was to blame. In the stifling atmosphere of Millbank Prison, Margaret finds herself drawn to the beautiful girl and soon experiences strange occurrences that can only be attibuted to the work of spirits. Can this be real? And will she be able to save Selina?

Although Waters’ writing is wonderful, I found the book to be rather slow at the beginning. It is only after finishing the book that I realised what a genius Sarah Waters is. The plot is constructed in such a clever way that you are Margaret, and you fall in love, you start to believe in the spirits Selina sees and then you realise suddenly what has really been happening. It all slots into place and you are left reeling, wondering why you never saw what was plainly there in front of your eyes.

Really, you have to read this book. And please read it before you watch the TV adaptation. Because although the adaptation was good, it just isn’t as good as the book.

I thought the casting of Anna Madeley and Zoe Tapper as the two main characters in the TV adaptation was brilliant. The script was written by Andrew Davies who also wrote the scripts for Pride and Prejudice (the one with Colin Firth) and Bleak House, both of which I loved. But somehow, you lose something in the translation and I found it a little wanting. As so often happens, I noticed a couple of changes which I felt may have been necessary for the adaptation but changed the meaning of the story a little. However, the cinematography was beautiful and I think it captured the spirit of the book.

It was interesting to watch the DVD straight after reading the book to compare them, but maybe it might have been better if I had let a couple of weeks dampen my enthusiasm for the book so that I could have given the DVD a chance. What do you think?

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15 Responses to “Affinity by Sarah Waters”

  1. amymckie Says:

    I keep seeing a lot of reviews of Sarah Waters books but I have yet to read one. They all sound great, this one in particular sounds really interesting. I like the premise.

    • chasing bawa Says:

      Her books are broadly divided between Victorian melodrama (Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith) and her 1940s, WWII and after era (The Little Stranger and The Night Watch). I think most readers prefer her Victorian novels, but she is a really fabulous writer. I can’t wait to see what she will come up with next.

  2. Gavin Says:

    Okay, I’ll read this one after I read The Night Watch!


  3. I’m afraid its too late for me – I’ve seen the TV adaptation :-(
    I discoved Sarah Waters through watching her adaptations and have seen all of them. I read Fingersmith after seeing it on TV and it still managed to be one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m hoping I’ll be able to say the same about the others.

    I’m leaving a few years before reading the rest of the books though – trying to distance myself from what I saw.

    • chasing bawa Says:

      I think if you leave a bit of time then reading the book will feel like a new experience again :) I actually liked the adaptation but I kept comparing it to the book because I’d just finished it, which kind of spoiled it a little for me. I completely forgot about the adaptation of Fingersmith, so I’m going to hunt for it once I’ve reread the book. Thanks for reminding me.

  4. Aarti Says:

    I really liked this book! Affinity was my first Sarah Waters book and I enjoyed it more than Fingersmith myself. I liked the slow, creeping sense of something being very wrong. It was written so wonderfully!

  5. Nymeth Says:

    I loved this book too, though the ending completely shattered me. Probably not as much as the ending of The Night Watch, though. And yes, her prose is just something else!


  6. I haven’t read any Waters but have just taken The Little Stranger out of the library and am really looking forward to it.

  7. Danielle Says:

    I was not expecting to like this one very much–especially after loving Fingersmith (my first Sarah Waters novel)–spiritualism had never really appealed to me, but I was very surprised by this book. She reeled me in as well. I found myself thinking just maybe…and while the twist didn’t quite floor me like Fingersmith, it was excellent nonetheless. I will have to see if I can get the film adaptation–I read the book more than a year ago, so I think it’s faded enough from memory that I might not compare them too heavily.

  8. Eva Says:

    I loved this one too! Unlike everyone else, I started w/ Tipping the Velvet and fell in love with Waters then. So I’ve been reading her books in published order. :) I finished Fingersmith a couple months ago; I definitely enjoyed it, but it wasn’t my favourite of hers.

  9. Mystica Says:

    Thank you for this review. I’m trying to start with Tipping the Velvet and then going on to Fingersmith. However this book will also go on to my TBR list.

  10. chasing bawa Says:

    Nymeth: The ending shattered me too (what a great description!) It was something I just didn’t expect and made me go back and examine everything again.

    jessicabookworm: I hope you enjoy it!

    Danielle: The adaptation was good and I think you’ll enjoy it. The heavy, oppressive atmosphere was spot on.

    Eva: I watched Tipping the Velvet on TV which was when I first heard of Sarah Waters, but haven’t read the book yet. I think I’ll give it a try after rereading Fingersmith. I seem to be going backwards with Waters.

    Mystica: I’ll be waiting to hear your thoughts about the books. I think Affinity is her second book.


  11. [...] Sakura at Chasing Bawa enjoyed it; although she found the beginning slow, she appreciated it once she finished the novel. Ana at things mean a lot thoroughly enjoyed it, although she didn’t like it as much as Fingersmith. [...]


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