Affinity, by Sarah Waters (1999) K

Date Read: 12.26.07
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner


Margaret Prior becomes a “Lady Visitor” at the Millbank prison. There, she takes in the prison experience, from the food to the garb to the treatment of the prisoners and takes steps to befriend and be a source of comfort for many of the inmates. As her visits progress, she finds herself drawn to one girl in particular, a spirit medium Selina Dawes, convicted of spiritualistic fraud and assault. Soon, between her own declining health and the nature of her friendship with Selina, Margaret finds herself hopelessly committed to the Millbank prison and tangled up with mysterious spirits.


Well, I don’t really know how to approach this review. I could either review it superficially and not give away the story, or try to convey everything I want to and ruin everything by implication. I’ll… just… charge ahead as best I can and see where it takes me.

Overall Affinity was a much easier read than either Tipping the Velvet or Fingersmith because it was so linear and set in one place– the prison and Margaret’s house were the only settings and the prison was the only plot. As a result, the circumstances definitely called for a slow, steadily snowballing story.

The narrative is composed of alternating entries in Selina’s and Margaret’s respective journals. Margaret’s journal is an account of her prison visits, while Selina’s chronicles her professional life before Millbank. Every chapter was truly not wasted, and either led you deeper into the past and Selina’s life or drastically advanced Selina and Margaret’s relationship. The reading experience was deeply gripping and satisfying, and I’m still shocked by how successfully Waters mislead me.

Sadly, I was annoyed when I finally put the book down, because of the Big Honking Twist. Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith each ended with a Big Honking Twist of their own, and seeing the same type of resolution used three times in a row irked me, and it rendered Affinity predictable in its unpredictability. I have very mixed feelings about this, because I would’ve appreciated the ending much more if I had read Affinity before Fingersmith or Tipping the Velvet, and now I wonder how much my order of reading the rest of Sarah Waters‘ books have impacted my opinions about them.

Despite everything, Affinity is still a marvelous, moving book with wonderful writing and a great historical backdrop. There aren”t too much good women+prison books out there (at least I don’t think so O__o) and Affinity still manages to set itself apart.

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Sarah Waters

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