Affinity by Sarah Waters

Affinity by Sarah Waters

When I was given the list of books that I had to read for my English and Media course at university, I let out a groan. Whenever I think of study texts for anything, whether it was at school, college or university, I always think that they’re going to be boring.

I was proved wrong when I studied To Kill a Mockingbird at Secondary School, I was wrong when I also studied An Inspector Calls and The Woman in Black there. I was proved wrong when I studied The Time Machine in college (even though I was proved right when we were also given Hard Times by Charles Dickens!) and now I’m at university. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Great Expectations, I didn’t really enjoy To The Lighthouse and now Affinity by Sarah Waters.

Is this book going to go against the stereotypical texts of studying or not?

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

When I read the blurb of this book, I had to admit, it sounded rather different than any university book that I was expecting. A feminist, gothic, Victorian-era book. Sounds pretty good right?

It was.

It really was.

Although this book was slow to start off with, I found myself becoming hooked. I have never read about women’s jails (or gaols – as they are written in Affinity) before and I found the subject intriguing. 

“Your twisting is done — you have the last thread of my heart. I wonder: when the thread grows slack, will you feel it?”
– Sarah Waters, Affinity

The whole premise of this book was fascinating: a ‘lady’ that has tried to commit suicide, women’s jails, spirit mediums and an LGBT theme. 

Sarah Waters writes her characters with such depth that, when I was reading the parts of Margaret, I felt like I was actually her walking through Millbank jail, I felt like I was her when she would go and talk to Selina Dawes. I was sucked right into her world and couldn’t seem to find myself getting out of it. 

That ending though?!!! The last 50 pages were probably one of the best sections of literature that I’ve ever read. (Not THE best, ONE of the best – nothing can ever beat To Kill a Mockingbird). I have no one to talk about this book with as no one that I know has read it. I need to rant and rave about what happened at the end because it was so darn good! When I finished the book, I think I was sat on my bed in disbelief for about an hour, trying to take everything in that I had just read. 

Just wow.

I cannot wait to study this book in more depth at university. I can’t wait to read more work by Sarah Waters. This book is a strong five out of five and I definitely recommend this book to everyone. I think this is a must-read book.

2 thoughts on “Affinity by Sarah Waters

  1. Oh my, I've never heard of this book before, but I think I'd love to read it. When I was in university, I studied a sociology paper about incarceration, and it was so interesting. I would love to read this; it sounds like something I'd like to read.
    Have you read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly? It's a pretty harrowing book, but it has some parallels, as well as a religious aspect too!

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