Sarah Waters, Affinity
Margaret Prior is a young woman living in Victorian London, and who, after a period of depression following the death of her father and the wedding of her best friend Helen, decides to do volunteer work by visiting ladies prisoners. At first she is impressed by the austerity of the place, the regularity of the rituals and the severity of the wardens, but she is soon intrigued by a single prisoner, Selina Dawes, who distinguishes herself from the others.
Selina is a medium, imprisoned after a private séance which caused the nervous breakdown of a young woman and the death of an older lady. She is completely isolated in prison, never receiving any visits or letters. However, strange things happen in her cell: voices are heard at night, flowers find their ways into Selina’s fingers, etc. Some are convinced that Selina has visits from spirit friends. First interested and then fascinated by Selina, Margaret progressively becomes obsessed with her. The narration travels between the present and the past, between Margaret’s visits to the prison and Selina’s telling of the events that led to her imprisonment.
Affinity is an interesting novel in everything that relates to the Victorian times and places, the description of the prison, its architecture, the daily routines of the prisoners and the methods of punishment. These details are truly chilling and fascinating. Unfortunately, the story itself is slow going, mostly because from the beginning I could see where it was leading. The plot is predictable, and what many people apparently called a surprise ending seemed logical to me and completely expected. I read reviews which compared Sarah Waters and Henry James, but there is no comparison possible in my opinion: James, in The Turn of the Screw, artfully maintains a doubt in the mind of the reader as to whether the governess is mad or whether some supernatural events are indeed taking place. Waters tries to create textual ambiguity but is incapable, in my opinion, of such narrative subtlety. She has to rely on plot devices to make it work, as she did, more convincingly, in Fingersmith. I had much more fun reading Fingersmith, which is a more dynamic, surprising and better-plotted story…