I recently did something I hadn't done in nearly six months: I read a novel.
Since starting my MFA last year I've been reading exclusively non-fiction and most of my reading has been course-related so it felt like a real treat to pick up a novel again.
I've had The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber on my bookshelf for ages, and have been meaning to read it for longer than I'd like to admit.
When the book came out in 2002, it was the hot read of the year. It seemed like it was on every book club list in the English speaking world. Everyone was reading it and, more importantly, everyone was loving it.
I was twelve in 2002, and although the book wasn't beyond my reading level at the time, I wasn't so much into 19th century prostitutes as I was into Elizabeth Bennet. So thirteen years went by and I still hadn't read The Book That Everyone Was Talking About.
But now I have!
And I wonder if maybe my expectations were too high.
Don't get me wrong: the writing is beautiful and the characters are super-compelling, but ultimately the theme and storylines didn't come together effectively enough for me.
Faber did do something very interesting in his first chapter though, and I'm curious to hear what you think about it if you're one of the bajillion people who have read this book so leave a note in the comments :)
In the opening pages of the novel, Faber introduces us to a cast of characters that he himself deems inconsequential. It's almost a challenge to the reader not to abandon the book. Usually, a writer's job is to convince the reader that the book is worth his or her time. Instead, Faber blatantly states that his opening chapter and characters are insignificant and will have no bearing on the later story. True, some of the characters introduced in the first chapter reappear hundreds of pages later, but their roles and early introductions are irrelevant. In an 800 page tome, I find myself asking early on if this is an author worth trusting. Why should I spend my valuable time reading your work if even you don't think it's important? Are you just writing because you like the sound of your own words? Yet, for some reason (probably because of the book's stellar reputation), I kept reading.
I decided to trust Faber until the end of the novel, but ultimately I don't think he delivered when it comes to theme and story. Maybe Faber does simply like to write for writing's sake. He is good at it. Like I said before, the writing itself is beautiful in this book. But by the end, I wondered why I'd gone on such a long journey with these characters. The lengthy and detailed subplot never came to a resolution and I found myself wondering why it was in the book at all. As for the main storyline, all I could conclude thematically is that Victorian men and Victorian society made life impossible for women. And I didn't need 800 pages to tell me that.
Personally, good writing isn't enough for me. I also need a good theme or take-away from a book to really really love it.
Have I completely missed the point of this book? I feel like I have considering how much everyone else loved it. So please, let me know what you think in the comments!