See - I promised I was reading books by authors other than Alexander McCall Smith! And Affinity by Sarah Waters is probably as far as I could have got from McCall Smith in many ways!
I first read about this book over at A Work In Progress - Danielle's review made the book sound very enticing so I collected it soon after reading her review from my local library. I have read The Night Watch by the same author when it was first released some time ago and I absolutely loved it so I had no hesitation in going back to her work - even though Affinity sounded like a very different novel.
Affinity is set during the 1870's in London - the book alternates between scenes in upper class houses of the time and the Millbank prison for women.
Margaret Prior, an upper middle class unmarried lady begins to visit the female inmates of the prison after a suicide attempt following the death of her beloved father. Margaret struggles with the confronting nature of the visits at first but soon begins to see some similarities between herself and the prisoners - even though they would first appear to come from worlds away from one another. Margaret begins to develop a close relationship with one of the prisoners, Selina Dawes, a young spiritualist who has been imprisoned for assault and fraud after a seance sitting she was facilitating ended in the death of one woman and the "deep disturbance" of another.
The book alternates between the voices of Margaret and Selina where they give accounts of the events currently taking place as well as the events leading up to Selina being arrested, tried and sent to prison.
While the book focuses on Margaret and Selina I also felt it was saying a lot about the lives of women in general in the time in which it was set. At one stage Margaret makes the comment; "Why do gentlemen's voices carry so clearly, when women's are so easily stifled?".
The writing is evocative and enticing - I felt like I was walking through Victorian London, particularly the scenes set in the prison which felt disturbingly real at times. The story was teased out with just the right pacing I felt - I didn't want to put the book down but at the same time I didn't want it to end.
The ending of the book was fantastic - I did not see it coming at all!
I am looking out for other books by Sarah Waters now and am keen to pick up another book like Affinity so if anyone has any suggestions please let me know.