Book Review : Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Posted on 23 January 2009 by ana_a


I have to say that my exposure to lesbian fiction is limited to a little over a dozen lesbian authors. But two shinning stars that pop up in my all time favorite list are – Jeanette Winterson and Sarah Waters (maybe it is something about the dreary British weather that brings the best out of lesbian fiction?).  Where reading Winterson’s works is like thumbing through a shopping mall’s plastic poster portfolio of cheap Disney knockoffs prints and finding Picasso’s original artwork, reading Sarah Waters’ works is like finding a full-blown oasis complete with lesbian egrets while stumbling through a dry hot desert. To that effect, this review is on her first published book – Tipping the Velvet. To date, Sarah Waters has written four books: Affinity(Affinity is the first book I re-read immediately after finishing because the twist in the book was that jarring and unexpected), NightWatch, Fingersmith. I believe three of them having been made to feature films – Affinity(2008), Fingersmith(2005), Tipping the Velvet (2002).  I have to admit with Tipping the Velvet, I watched the movie first before reading the novel.  The movies was so good I felt like I didn’t need to read the novel. But, I finally caved in and purchased the novel after reading all her other novels. I have to say I was not disappointed with my meager investment.  

Her writing vividly brings out characters, their emotions and their environment. Tipping the Velvet follows Nan King, a young protagonist through her journey of self-discover. Her relationships with Kitty, Diana and Florie is written in such lush detail, I feel like writing a letter of complaint to the producers of the movie for not depicting Nan for the drool-inducing butch that she was in the book.  While there are many memorable moments in the book, my favorite is when Diana related a story of the beggar and djinn to Nan the morning after their first liason. The djinn/Diana gave the beggar/Nan the choice of living in ordinary comfort for 70 years or live in pleasure for 500 days. Guess which the beggar and Nan picked? I have to admit even now, I run the same question through my head sometimes when making life decisions.  

I don’t want to give a way too much of the storyline as I strongly recommend you run to the store right now to buy all of Sarah Waters’ books. If you can only buy one book because you are such a cheapskate, get Tipping the Velvet if you like some eroticism in your lesbian fiction or Affinity if you want to get a good twist in your reading. 

9 Comments For This Post

  1. Lainie Says:

    For some reason, I never took to Sarah Waters’ writing. Read Tipping the Velvet, Affinity and Fingersmith — all three felt a bit to stilted for me.

  2. Lainie Says:

    (Jeanette Winterson, on the other hand, I heart for her prose style)

  3. sue Says:

    i watch the movie first before i read it too… it was good.. and brought me to tears..

  4. auntie ana Says:

    @Laine *gasp* how can you not like Sarah Waters????? She is so easy to read and writes very descriptive scenarios. But I second <3 Winterson as well. @sue you should watch Affinity and Fingersmith too and let me know what you think.

  5. sue Says:

    i’d already watch Fingersmith .. but that one still can’t beat Tipping The Velvet for me.. but looking forward for Affinity.. ;)

  6. Lainie Says:

    i donch knoooow
    maybe i like my females difficult :P

  7. Jill Says:

    I found Sarah Waters work to be entirely captivating and I long to be able to write like her. I have yet to read Jeanette Winterson, only because I can’t find any of her works!
    Tipping the Velvet made me blush whilst reading it in some parts and the whole story line engaged me to the full. I’ve read it 4 times over! Affinity was a little strange for me but I still enjoyed it and Fingersmith wasn’t bad either. I’ve yet to read Nightwatch though…hmm

  8. ana_a Says:

    Hi Jill

    Yah, I have read most of Waters’ works over and over again including the Little Stranger (not lesbian-themed). Boy, if you think Tipping the Velvet has steamy scenes wait till you read about the next book review I am working on. Lol.

  9. Louche Says:

    I don’t get it. I didn’t like this movie at all. Fingersmith is one of my favorite movies of all time; Tipping the Velvet was a waste of three hours. I read a few pages of Fingersmith, though, and I’m starting to think I shouldn’t read on. After watching Tipping the Velvet, I feel less inclined to think this author is that great… but maybe that film just wasn’t well-done.

    Jeanette Winterson… I like her writing style, but most of what she writes about… well, I’ve only read two books, but I couldn’t stand them for the most part. Written On the Body = so pointless.

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