Affinity, by Sarah Waters
Having read–and loved–The Little Stranger last year, I foresaw that Affinity would likely make for a fun, engaging, and creepy post-finals-intro-to-winter-break indulgence read. Which it was. Though it rests on a decidedly lower rung of my estimation than does The Little Stranger, I was still gladly grabbed by the suspenseful rush of the story. And with a Victorian women’s prison as the setting, and the trend of spiritualism as a key element of the plot*, how could I not be?
“Spinster” Margaret Prior is a Lady Visitor to Millbanks, where she is to set an encouraging example for the prison’s inmates. She makes a special friend of Selina Dawes, a calm and quiet girl who proves to be one of the prison’s most mysterious wards. Miss Prior feels strongly for Selina, who claims innocence and maintained visitations from spirits. Miss Prior is skeptical, at first, but as her desire for Selina grows, and strange objects manifest both within and outside the bars of Selina’s cell, she must call into question her own convictions, feelings, and secret histories all at once–and the result is startling.
I find the supernatural amusing in theory, but I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to summon enough suspension of disbelief for this book. Luckily–and without giving too much away, I hope (um, spoiler alert?)–some of that skepticism was vindicated by a twist ending. The twist ending was a little out of left field, I thought, and at times throughout the book the emotional melodrama was a bit much (whereas the intensity of emotion was very subtle, I thought, in The Little Stranger, and there was considerable and gradual lead-up to the “twist”, which I prefer). I really enjoyed Water’s exploration of Victorian punishment, sexual repression, and spiritualist subculture, though, so for me this book was still totally worth reading.
*New Year’s reading resolution: find out more about this whole spiritualism thing.