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. That, he said, was all his skill. And perhaps, after all, the histories he dealt with were rather easy to sift like that, to divide up and classify - the great lives, the great works, each one of them neat and gleaming and complete, like metal letters in a box of type.
I read Sarah Water's Affinity in the Italian translation by Fabrizio Ascari. It's a compelling, mysterious love story between two women set in 1870s London. It's another of those books that leaves me in awe - one that I'm almost afraid to review, because there's no way I'm ging to make the book justice without giving too much away. I'll try anyway.
After her father's death, Margaret Prior has been suffering from a nervous breakdown that leaves her fragile and exhausted. In order to do something useful with herself, she decides to visit the women imprisoned at Millibank, who live and work in complete silence, to comfort them with her presence and moral example. There, she finds a person who makes her visits a passion: Selina Dowes, disgraced spiritualist, at Millibank for fraud and assault. Margaret is drawn to this young woman with apparent spiritual powers. and magic events start to take place: flowers appear and disappear, a locket vanishes, and Selina knows everything about her. As the story draws into a climax, you'll desperatesly want to believe in Selina's magic.
The title refers to the similarity between Selina and Margaret - both imprisoned, one in the physical constraints of the Millibank walls, the other in the spiritual ties of what her family expect of her. Selina's courage in defying the rules at Millibank is opposed to Margaret's inability to stand up for herself and let herself live.
Affinity deals with a desire to be connected and alive, to be part of a bigger whole. Highly recommended.
Now you know why you are drawn to me — why your flesh comes creeping to mine, and what it comes for. Let it creep.
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Cross-posted at my blog, Out of the Blue.