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Affinity [Paperback]

Sarah Waters
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 17 2002

“Gothic tale, psychological study, puzzle narrative…This is gripping, astute fiction that feeds the mind and senses.”—The Seattle Times

An upper-class woman recovering from a suicide attempt, Margaret Prior has begun visiting the women’s ward of Millbank prison, Victorian London’s grimmest jail, as part of her rehabilitative charity work. Amongst Millbank’s murderers and common thieves, Margaret finds herself increasingly fascinated by on apparently innocent inmate, the enigmatic spiritualist Selina Dawes. Selina was imprisoned after a séance she was conducting went horribly awry, leaving an elderly matron dead and a young woman deeply disturbed. Although initially skeptical of Selina’s gifts, Margaret is soon drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina’s freedom, and her own.

As in her noteworthy deput, Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters brilliantly evokes the sights and smells of a moody and beguiling nineteenth-century London, and proves herself yet again a storyteller, in the words of the New York Times Book Review, of "startling power."

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From Amazon

Affinity is a tale of power and possession that Henry James himself might admire. In her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters explored secrets and longing--capping off this lesbian romp with a utopian-socialist vision. Her intricate follow-up is just as sensual but infinitely darker, its moral more difficult to descry. Its stylistic and psychological rewards, however, are visible at every turn, the author's persuasive imagination matched by her gift for storytelling.

In late September 1874, Margaret Prior makes her way through the pentagons of London's Millbank Prison, a place of fearful symmetry and endless corridors. This plain woman on the verge of 30 has come to comfort those behind bars, several of whom Waters brings to instant, sad life. And our Lady Visitor plans to take her role dead seriously, having recovered from two years of nervous indolence in her family's Chelsea house. One person, however, makes her job a passion. Opening an inspection slit (or "eye" as these devices are known), Margaret hears "a perfect sigh, like a sigh in a story." Peering inward, she's confronted by the most erotic of visions--a woman turned toward the sun, caressing her cheek with a forbidden violet: "As I watched, she put the flower to her lips, and breathed upon it, and the purple of the petals gave a quiver and seemed to glow..."

Selina Dawes may indeed have the face of a Crivelli angel, but this medium is in for fraud and assault, her last session having gone very badly indeed. Suffice it to say that the first full encounter between these two very different women is enthralling. "You think spiritualism a kind of fancy," Selina riddles. "Doesn't it seem to you, now you are here, that anything might be real, since Millbank is?" And soon enough Margaret receives several viable signs of the supernatural: a locket disappears from her room, flowers mysteriously appear, and her dazzling friend knows everything about her. Strangest of all, Selina seems to love her.

As Margaret records her weekly prison forays, her own past comes into focus, notably her plans to travel to Italy with her first love (who is now her sister-in-law). But her current journal, she convinces herself, is to be very different from her last one, which "took as long to burn as human hearts, they say, do take." Meanwhile, Waters offers a narrative two-for-one, placing Margaret's diary cheek by jowl with Selina's chronicle of her pre-Millbank existence. This dispassionate, staccato record initially suggests that we can separate truth from desire. Or can we? What Waters's haunting creation leaves us with is a more painful reality--that knowledge and belief are entirely different things. --Kerry Fried --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Unfolds sinuously and ominously…a powerful plot-twister…a truly suspenseful tale of terror; and a piece of elegant, thinly veiled erotica. Like a Ouija board, Affinity offers different messages to different readers, scaring the shrouds off everyone in the process.”
USA Today

“[Waters] displays her incredible talent for the Gothic historical novel in this splendid book about a Victorian women’s prison and the affair there between an inmate and a ‘lady visitor.’”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Gothic tale, psychological study, puzzle narrative…superbly suspenseful…This is gripping, astute fiction that feeds the mind and senses.”
The Seattle Times

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Pa used to say that any piece of history might be made into a tale: it was only a question of deciding where the tale began, and where it ended. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as Fingersmith June 27 2004
I like Sarah Waters -- her writing is lovely and her characters are well-developed and interesting. Her ability to evoke 19th century England is fine and she sets the mood, often dark and eerie, rather well. This is a good book, and, like Fingersmith, contains a twist. It's not as interesting as Fingersmith, however; the story isn't as compelling, nor are the characters, and the twist isn't that surprising (the twist in Fingersmith literally made me yelp!). It is a tad slow as well. It's worth the read, but if read after Fingersmith this may disappoint a bit.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Once again a triumph for Ms. Waters June 10 2004
Ater finishing Affinity, I can hardly wait for her next book. Ms Waters write such a totally consuming story that it's hard to pull yourself away. I found myself sitting up way into the night and picking up the book at every opportunity just to find out what happens next. However, I didn't want to read it too fast because I knew there wasn't another yet. I hope Ms. Waters continues writing in the fashion of Affinity, Fingersmiths and Tipping The Velvet. I will definitely be first in line for her next masterpiece.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic! March 16 2004
By A Customer
Having already read and fallen in love with Waters' first novel "Tipping the Velvet," I must admit I expected more of the same when I picked up "Affinity." Boy, was I wrong!
Waters has proven herself as a masterful storyteller, crafting tales that draw the reader in and do not let go. I found myself reading at all hours of the day and night, unable to stop turning the pages, absolutely absorbed in the tale unfolding before me. As I read this novel, I found myself falling in love with Selina Dawes, my heart broken by the dark story behind Margaret Prior's stint as a Lady Visitor, and so desperate to know what happens that by the end my head was spinning. My husband sat and just watched me read, my reactions so visceral that I was gripping the book, grimacing in ache and surprise as the story unfolded, and breathing raggedly, wildly, as I rushed headlong to the astounding ending.
This is not your run-of-the-mill mystery, gothic or otherwise. It is sensual, dark and entrancing, and I highly recommend "Affinity" to anyone looking for a good yarn. I have "Fingersmith" waiting to be read, but am enduring a torturous wait before diving into it, desperate to know what fabulous tale Ms. Waters has prepared for me, but painfully aware that once I have devoured it, there will be no more to sate my desire for this woman's fabulous work... And so I wait...
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5.0 out of 5 stars dark and surprising Dec 29 2003
Affinity is more polished than Waters' previous award-winner "Tipping the Velvet". While Tipping the Velvet was an epic of love and position lost and gained over a lifetime, Affinity focuses on a short period of time and two main characters. The scope of this novel is as tight as a short story, with no trailing pieces left unresolved. There is definitely a Gothic touch, with the dark brooding prison, the yellowish London fogs, and the black mourning clothes that the heroine must wear. This book could be described as a mix of the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes with a Dickensian critique of Victorian society.
The story is about a Lady Visitor, Margaret, who begins visiting the women of Millbank prison because charity work should help get her mind off her dear father's death. There she meets Selina Dawes, a spiritualist who is jailed for an assault that occurred during one of her seances. There are many mystical things that happen in this book, and the reader is left to puzzle out whether to believe in the spirits or look for a logical explanation. Margaret herself is a skeptic, not sure whether to believe in Selina's tales of spirit friends.
The ending comes as quite a surprise, and like the Sixth Sense or Fight Club, will have you paging backwards to look for the clues you missed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Tricky Gothic Novel that Leaves a Mark Aug. 3 2003
A story with gothic atmosphere, AFFINITY is set in 1875 London. The narrator, Miss Margaret Prior, is an upper class woman on the verge of turning 30, and when we become acquainted with her, she is making her first visit to Millbank Prison. She is to be the Lady Visitor-someone who comes to visit and motivate the pathetic denizens locked up for everything from petty crimes and prostitution to murder. Very quickly she becomes compulsively interested in a young woman, Selina Dawes, a spiritualist and medium in jail for harming a young girl and for involvement in the death of her benefactress.
Miss Prior's elaborate descriptions of Millbank, the incarcerated women, and her daily life at home soon reveal that she, too, is locked in her own private prison from which she has no way to escape. She's already had one "nervous" episode nearly resulting in her death. This followed the betrayal of a woman with whom she was smitten and the death of her dearly beloved father. She is a woman locked in a world with social mores that do not allow her to be herself-nor even to know who her real Self is. Only Selina has managed to introduce a little magic into her life.
With each passing week, the story builds in intensity as Miss Prior visits the dismal Millbank and attempts to see Selina Dawes as often as possible. Though she fights it, little by little, she surrenders to her feelings for the other woman. Will Selina manage to escape and will Miss Prior assist? Is the young woman truly innocent and wrongly convicted? We get clues from periodic diary entries made by Selina, but the mystery of the spiritualist's past is not revealed until the end.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great...for any other author
This is a tough review. I have read both of Ms. Waters other books, 'Fingersmith' which is fantastic and 'Tipping the Velvet' which is very good. Read more
Published on May 14 2004 by S. A Troutt
2.0 out of 5 stars slow-paced; poorly written; unsexy
I picked this up at my local library after reading heaps of praise for Sarah Waters and her three books: Tipping the Velvet, Affinity, and Fingersmith. Read more
Published on April 7 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars SUPERB!!!
Without going into a lot of detail, I just feel the need to express how wonderfully written and suspensful this was. Read more
Published on Feb. 4 2004 by agnes bonaparte
5.0 out of 5 stars Pulls you in and doesn't let you go, even after the end
A much different setting than "Tipping the Velvet," Affinity has still managed to capture a dark side of Victorian London. Read more
Published on Aug. 23 2003 by Mizuho Kazami
3.0 out of 5 stars Much better than Tipping the Velvet & Fingersmith
I have now read all three of Waters novels, and I would say this is the best. It was hard to get into it and I almost didn't bother to continue, but I slogged through and by the... Read more
Published on Aug. 4 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars awesome
In a novel whose plot revolves around a spisterish lady in 19th century England who visits prisoners at the goal (prison), Waters shines as an author. Read more
Published on July 9 2003 by paul mason
Arguably, Sarah Waters is one of the most prolific contemporary authors of Victorian fiction. She has a gift of creating realistic and three-dimensional female protagonists... Read more
Published on June 30 2003 by S. Calhoun
2.0 out of 5 stars Eh
I suppose the problem is that "Fingersmith" was such an incredible book, I was expecting the same from "Affinity. Read more
Published on June 23 2003 by Truthseeker
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