Set in and around the women's prison at Milbank in the 1870's, Affinity is an eerie and utterly compelling ghost story, a complex and intriguing literary mystery and a poignant love story with an unexpected twist in the tale.
Following the death of her father, Margaret Prior has decided to pursue some 'good work' with the lady criminals of one of London's most notorious gaols. Surrounded by prisoners, murderers and common thieves, Margaret feels herself drawn to one of the prisons more unlikely inmates - the imprisoned spiritualist - Selina Dawes.
Sympathetic to the plight of this innocent-seeming girl, Margaret sees herself dispensing guidance and perhaps friendship on her visits, little expecting to find herself dabbling in a twilight world of seances, shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions.
This is the second novel by Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Sarah Waters. Set in Victorian London, it tells the sad and dark tale of Margaret Prior as she becomes ensnared by the spiritualist Selina Dawes. The pair meet when, in an attempt to shake off the grief of her father's death and to escape the shackles of bourgeois society, Margaret decides to become a Lady Visitor at Millbank prison. She is immediately drawn to the cell of Selina, who, over the course of her visits, winds her in like a fish on a hook, with a heady mix of spiritualism and eroticism. Tokens such as a spray of orange blossom and a tress of Selina's hair begin to arrive in Margaret's bedroom, convincing her that she is indeed Selina's 'affinity' and that by allowing her to take over her body, and thereby escape, they can begin a new life together on the Continent. This is a beautifully written novel, with its evocative descriptions of smog-bound London and the Thames as it seeps into the creaking Kafkaesque edifice of Millbank. These passages are counter-balanced by Margaret's beautifully stilted prose as she recounts the misery of her stifling and repressed life as a Victorian spinster. Such is the bewitching quality of Waters's writing that we, like Margaret, are taken in and it comes as a rude shock to learn that Selinas scheme is nothing more than an elaborate hoax to facilitate her own escape. Underlying this haunting tale is an interesting social commentary on the status of women in Victorian society and a sensitive study of female sexuality. We are constantly made aware of the inferior position occupied by women of the time, and throughout there are veiled references to Margaret's lesbian tendencies as she tries to stifle memories of a previous relationship with her sister-in-law while at the same time succumbing to Selina's seductive charms. This is a finely crafted and absorbing novel which has the reader spellbound from the start by its eerie sensuality. (Kirkus UK)
Series: Virago V S.
Number Of Pages: 368
Published: 2nd March 2000
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 19.9 x 12.7 x 2.5
Weight (kg): 0.29
Edition Number: 1