UK Kirkus Review »
It is the late 19th century, and Nancy is a girl from an honest Whitstable oyster-selling family whose head is turned by a visit to the local music hall. There she watches, night after night, a song and dance routine by Kitty Butler, a girl not much older than herself who dresses as a boy. Her obsession deepens and awakens sexual feelings she can neither express nor deny, so when Kitty befriends her and asks her to travel to London with her as her dresser, she accepts immediately. What follows are the next five years of Nancy's life her passionate love for Kitty, Kitty's betrayal of that love, and the slow working through of her despair and grief. The journey takes Nancy through the lowest depravities of the London sex scene, where she earns her living for a while as a rent 'boy', to the luxury of being the private toy of a wealthy lesbian with outlandish tastes and expensive habits. The pain of losing Kitty never goes, even as her experiences harden her, and this is as much a book about the agony of growing out of a lost first love and finding something to replace it, as it is a historical picture of the sleaziest aspects of life in Victorian London. It is erotic and sometimes explicit but Nancy's feelings, or numb lack of them, are always the point. She eventually finds both love and work which will use her talents constructively, but it's a tortuous and sometimes hopeless-seeming route. Sarah Waters writes without hitting a wrong note. The historical detail and the outlandish vocabulary are an education in themselves, brought to life through a variety of convincingly individual characters. Reading the first sentence, you know you will be captivated until the very end. It's a gripping and memorable ride. (Kirkus UK)
US Kirkus Review » Echoes of Tom Jones, Great Expectations, and anonymous confessional pornography resound throughout this richly entertaining first novel from England: the picaresque tale of its lesbian heroine's progress through several levels of both polite and refreshingly impolite Victorian society. Nancy Astley has been plucked away from her close-knit family of fishmongers in seaside Whitstable and whisked off to London as (unofficial) "dresser" to music-hall entertainer Kitty Butler - "the girl what dresses up as a feller" and the first love of stagestruck Nancy's young life. Before she's 20, she's become the coquettish Kitty's lover and also her stage partner, "fellow" male impersonator "Nan King." All is bliss until Kitty protects her reputation by escaping into marriage, and the abandoned Nancy finds work posing as a male street prostitute (or "renter") and undergoing undreamt-of sexual permutations and indignities as the girl/boytoy of lustful widow Diana Lethaby (at the latter's posh mansion, Felicity Place, and among jaded members of the militantly sapphic Cavendish Club) before seeking, losing, then reclaiming tree love with selfless "charity visitor" Florence Banner and finding her own voice as a fledgling Socialist. Marred only by a jerry-rigged conclusion in which the repentant Kitty is in effect punished for having concealed her sexuality, Waters's debut offers terrific entertainment: swiftly paced, crammed with colorful depictions of 1890s London and vividly sketched Dickensian supporting characters (Nancy's kindly parents recall the genial fisherfolk of David Copperfield), pulsating with highly charged (and explicitly presented) erotic heat. And Nancy's conflicted feelings - between the "desperate pleasures" to which she's drawn and her equally strong desire to become "a regular girl . . . again" - are quite movingly delineated. A perfect fictional equivalent to such eye-opening standard works as Frank Harris's My Life and Loves and Steven Marcus's The Other Victorians - and a rather formidable debut. (Kirkus Reviews)
Book Review: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters - Reviewed by CB (21 Oct 2011)
Having emigrated from the UK only 12 busy months ago, I found myself on a Sunday afternoon with no husband and son at home, the sun shining, a glass of wine in my hand and this book unread. I settled down to start it whilst the washing machine was doing my chores ...and suffice to say the washing did not get hung out until after dusk! Sarah Waters' style is beautiful - easy to read, full of detail without overpowering you, and both laugh out loud funny, and heartbreakingly sad within a few paragraphs. The story captures you straight away, the characters you feel as if you know and although I eventually had to stop reading to feed my family and go to work that week, it was with delight that I climbed into bed each night to read the next instalment. I even got up half an hour earlier some mornings to read a bit more! Suffice it to say that by the following Sunday "Tipping the Velvet" was over and I was bereft. But not for long..I have just started another of her titles - "Fingersmiths" - which is proving equally as addictive and have already lent my copy of "TTV" to another avid reader. For anyone who enjoys a good read with great story telling, this should be at the top of your "to do" list.