Tipping the Velvet

~by Sarah Waters
1999 Lambda Literary Award Winner

While not the first book I've read by Sarah Waters, Tipping the Velvet is her wonderful debut novel. Like all of the books she has written so far, her first was nominated for numerous awards in addition to winning several. Waters well deserves these honors--she is a fabulous writer and one of the few authors that I will seek out and read anything that she has written.

Nancy Astley is an oyster-girl from Whitstable in the late 1800s. She falls in love with Kitty Butler, a talented male impersonator, and ends up following her to London as her friend and dresser. She leaves her home and beloved family for the sensationalism of the music halls only to have her heart broken. Told in three parts, the novel follows Nan's sexual awakening and her experiences living in London--from the music halls, to the streets, and beyond--but ultimately it is a love story.

Interestingly, Nan never seemed to really struggle with her sexuality (which is somewhat refreshing) while her family and those around her often did. However, while not accepted by society as a whole, there were some sectors where being a tom and other sorts of "deviancies" were not only accepted but were celebrated.

Waters' writing is extraordinarily evocative and sensual. She doesn't shy away from provocative subjects and certain scenes are down right erotic. As I've come to expect, she has created an incredibly mesmerizing atmosphere--in this case, she explores the diversity of lesbianism in Victorian England in general and in the London area specifically. Though not particularly fast paced, and at times quite slow and fairly uneven, it still moved along rather enjoyably. The book was marvelous and I was far from disappointed. It is dangerous to pick up to read when you have other things that need to be done--once I had, I didn't want to put it down until it was finished.