My second RIP read of the season is done. Affinity by Sarah Waters got off to a slow start but finished in a rush. The book is written as two diaries. The main diary that narrates the bulk of the story belongs to Margaret Prior, an upper-middle class lady who begins visiting women incarcerated at the nearby Millbank prison in order to do them good and to give her something to do. Because you see, when the book begins we learn that she has just been recovering from something but we aren’t entirely sure what. Through a slow accumulation of hints and scenes we finally learn that after her father died the year before Margaret had tried to kill herself.
Margaret’s father allowed her to work as his assistant and this gave Margaret purpose and activity and took her out of the straightjacket of Victorian era womanhood. It also gave her an excuse for not marrying without having to reveal to her family that she prefers women over men. Added to her current sorrows is the wound of her lover, Helen, marrying Margaret’s brother, Stephen. Approaching 30, unmarried and with her younger sister planning marriage to a wealthy man, and her mother’s near smothering attentions, Millbank prison becomes a kind of escape.
At the prison Margaret meets and befriends a young and beautiful prisoner, the celebrated medium Selina Dawes who is in jail for assaulting one of her clients and contributing to the death by heart attack of her patron, Mrs. Brinks. Selina says it was not her, that she was in a trance and it was Peter Quick, her favored spirit that caused all the trouble. Margaret doesn’t believe in spiritualism but when Selina starts telling her things that she has no way of knowing and sending her gifts by the hands of her spirits, poor Margaret falls, hook, line and sinker not only for Selina’s spiritualist abilities for Selina herself.
The second diary in the book is Selina’s diary, a book she kept before going to prison. So as Margaret is getting to know Selina we are privy to scenes of Selina’s life through her diary leading up to the day of the assault that landed her in jail.
The language and style of the book is pretty plain and straightforward. No flights of lyricism or long and tricky sentences. This does not mean the book isn’t well written though, only that if you are looking for prose to make you swoon, this is not that kind of book. The story is what is front and center here and nothing distracts from it. It is so well done that we are pulled into Selina’s web right along with Margaret. And right along with Margaret we doubt Selina and then are made to believe. It is quite masterfully done.
I really can’t say anything more for fear of giving too much away. It was not scary or creepy but it was sad as well as an enjoyable RIP read.