Crimson Petal and the White

Faber, Michael. The Crimson Petal and the White. Narrated by Jill Tanner. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2004.

Faber, Michael. The Crimson Petal and the White. New York: Harcourt, 2002.

Reason read: Charles Dickens was born in the month of February. Read in his honor because Pearl compared Michael Faber to Dickens.

If you look at the panoramic picture, Crimson Petal and the White is a study of stark differences in 1870s London, England. Wealth and poverty. Employment and unwaged. Health and disease. Adam and Darwin. Men and women. Pious and deviant. Sane and deranged. Amidst all of this contradiction, we follow nineteen year old prostitute, Sugar. Desperate to lift herself out of the proverbial and literal gutter, Sugar prides herself on knowing how to please a man in more ways than just sexual; with great wit and cunning she appeals to a gentleman’s intellect. Men know to ask for her by name as she instinctively knows their every desire and willingly delivers. Is it an act? When left alone, she serenely spills venom in the form of writing a novel about a sex worker serial killer. She relishes every dagger plunge, every rat poisoned ravaged breath, every weak and begging man at her heroine’s mercy. Is this where the original Aileen Wuornos was born?
Nevertheless, for all outward appearances Sugar knows a thing or two about job security and makes herself indispensable to one wealthy man, perfume magnate, William Rackham. She becomes the “other woman” who has an ear for a man’s business troubles, as well as his family woes, and sexual discord. She takes great care to learn his business, then learn his life. All the better to insert herself into every corner.
The curious thing about Faber’s characters is that I didn’t care one way or another about them for most of the book. I wasn’t bothered by Rackham keeping a prostitute mistress (a la Pretty Woman). I didn’t feel bad for his young and mentally fragile wife, Agnes. I found Rackham’s brother, Henry, annoying. In the beginning, I only rooted for the cat, Puss. That changed neat the end of the book, but I can’t tell you why. Just read the book. Better yet, listen to the audio. The narration is great!

Lines worth mentioning, “Nothing, he finds, causes more inconvenience than a death, unless it be a marriage” (p 473).

Author fact: Faber has also written some short story collections, not on my Challenge list. As an aside, his brooding author photo reminded me of not one, but two ex-boyfriends.

Book trivia: Crimson is a hefty 800+ pages long and is often compared to Franzen’s The Corrections or Charles Dickens. Sundance made The Crimson Petal and the White into a series.

Nancy said: Pearl basically spells out the plot, but my favorite part is when she uses the word “guttersnipes.” Brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A Dickens of a Tale” (p 72).

Breakfast on Pluto

McCabe, Patrick. Breakfast on Pluto. New York: HarperFlamingo, 1998.

Reason read: October is the best time to visit Ireland and this time, I have it from a reliable source. According to a born and raised Dubliner, October is the best month and Breakfast on Pluto was written by an Irishman.

Confessional: I had to read the Prelude a second time to make sure I wasn’t confusing Patrick Braden with Patrick McCabe.

This story will unhinge you a little. Patrick Braden starts his life as a babe left on the doorsteps of a church where he is taken in by Father Bernard McIvor, who just so happens to be Patrick’s real father. Not knowing what else to do with the child, the pastor takes Patrick to an abusive and alcoholic foster home. It is around this time that Patrick decides he is a transvestite and starts calling himself “Pussy”. While Pussy shares his life story in lighthearted, sometimes amusing, sometimes matter of fact anecdotes, there is always a dark and violent undercurrent. That can’t be helped when the protagonist’s boyfriend is murdered, Pussy becomes a prostitute and gets involved in terrorism. Need I say more?

A cool thing about Breakfast on Pluto: it references a lot of music. It prompted me to take a journey to YouTube to look up the song “Breakfast on Pluto” by Don Partridge as well as the music of Vic Damone and the theme song to A Summer Place.

Author fact: McCabe has written thirteen books but I am only reading this one for the Challenge.

Book trivia: Breakfast on Pluto was made into a movie starring Cillian Murphy in 2005. Patrick McCabe was one of the writers on the project. I, of course, have not seen it.
Another piece of trivia: Breakfast on Pluto was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1998.

Nancy said: Breakfast on Pluto was a “good novel” set in Ireland.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Irish Fiction” (p 126).

Biggest Elvis

Kluge, P.F. Biggest Elvis. New York: Viking, 1996.

I like sarcastic, witty books. I like books with a bit of bite to them. Biggest Elvis has bite, wit, and dare I say, balls. Really fun book to read.

Written in the first person from the points of view of six different characters Biggest Elvis tells the story of the reincarnation of Elvis…in Olongapo, Philippines. Elvis lives again in the form of three Elvis impersonators portraying the early young-stud years, the middle movie years, and lastly, the portly, pudgy, final years. Their nightly performance is a huge hit in Olongapo, but as with all things, it has to end. As the performance gets bigger and more permenant so grows the obsession. In addition there is a sinister commentary about American greed and power that lurks behind the entertaining Elvis trio.

I realize that in the Philippines sex and prostitution are commonplace for a community. Just like homelessness or alcoholism it’s viewed as something the just exists and is shrugged off on with regularity. Because Biggest Elvis essentially takes place in a whorehouse disguised as a bar the references to sex are plentiful. For me, it was a little excessive.

Lines that I liked: ” – well, he would be a lost ball in tall grass” (p 6), “Olongapo had contaminated me. It leaked out of my pores, dripped off my tongue” (p 58), and “The kind of woman who always brings along something to read because she might get bored, the book is like a warning to the world she’s in, that if the people aren’t up to expectations, in a minute she’s out of here…” (p 124).

BookLust Twists: In Book Lust and More Book Lust. In Book Lust in the chapters, “Elvis on My Mind” (p 79), “First Novels” (p 89), and “P.F. Kluge: Too Good To Miss” (p 139). In More Book Lust in the introduction (p xii).

Sometimes I doubt myself to the point of silence. It’s hard for me to point out an error when I don’t think I have all the facts. So, it’s with a great deal of trouble that I have to say I think I found an error in a Book Lust chapter. Here’s the deal: Biggest Elvis is in three different Book Lustchapters: “P.F. Kluge: Too Good to Miss” (p), “Elvis” (p), and “First Novels” (p). It’s this last chapter that has me so bothered. According to Kluge’s website, he wrote a couple of other books before Biggest Elvis. Unless I misunderstood Pearl’s content for “First Books” I think including Biggest Elvis is a mistake. There, I said it. Somebody, anybody, please correct me if I’m wrong!