Mr. Faber’s novel The Crimson Petal and the White is one of my favorites, I hope someday to be able to read it again and review it here on this blog; in my opinion it’s one of the best novels I have ever read, peopled with characters who stay in your mind long after you've read the last page, the kind that keep you wondering what happened after the author chose to end his story.
For those who have not had the pleasure of reading it, The Crimson Petal and the White takes place in the 1870s and tells the story of a remarkable young woman, a prostitute named Sugar, who ends up working in her wealthy lover’s household as governess to his daughter, Sophie. Despite some very vocal reader dissatisfaction with a tantalizingly open ending, Mr. Faber has so far resisted writing a sequel, but he has given readers this slim volume of seven stories that revisit several characters from the original novel. One even proffers some clues about what happened afterwards.
Though I highly recommend reading the novel first, it is not, in my opinion, necessary to do so in order to enjoy these stories. For someone who has read the novel, reading this collection of stories is like being reunited with old friends, and learning a little more about them, and for a newcomer, it’s like meeting someone for the first time and being told a story from their life that makes you want to know even more.
In “Christmas in
seventeen-year-old Sugar goes out and buys some Christmas treats for
Christopher, the little boy who is employed in her mother’s brothel to collect
and deliver the girls’ laundry.
“Clara and the Rat Man” tells about a former lady’s maid, fallen to prostitution, who receives a rather unusual request from one of her clients.
In “Chocolate Hearts From The New World” Dr. Curlew despairs that his plain daughter Emmeline will ever catch a husband. When he learns that she is corresponding with gentlemen in
he finds new reason to hope. America
When a fly lands on a whore’s buttocks, it provokes a libertine to contemplate his own mortality and the futility of human existence in “The Fly, and Its Effects Upon Mr. Bodley.”
A female evangelist singing hymns outside the brothel awakens Sugar early one morning in “The Apple.”
“Medicine” finds an apathetic William Rackham sitting at his desk, taking patent medicines, pondering his business problems, and feeling sorry for the turn his life has taken since the coming and going of Sugar.
And in the final, and longest, story, “A Mighty Horde of Women In Very Big Hats Advancing,” Sophie’s son, now an elderly man, looks back upon his life and reminisces about the clash of middle class English respectability, Bohemian artists, and suffragettes that made his childhood so exciting.
Mr. Faber is a very talented author who has written in various genres. Besides this short story collection, and his historical masterpiece, The Crimson Petal and the White, I have also read one of his forays into science fiction, the fascinating and disturbing Under The Skin, and I recommend them all and look forward to reading more of his work in the future.