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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Deeply Moving Story Of Forbidden Love

Affinity - Sarah Waters

Another of Sarah Waters' wonderful neo-Victorian confections, Affinity is the story of thirty year old Margaret, intellectual, spinster and failed suicide, who lives with her mother to whom she is a grave disappointment and a constant trial.


Like all of Waters' heroines, Margaret's affections are drawn towards women rather than men but she inhabits a world where it is not possible to ever talk of such things and, dwelling in the shadow of her imperious mother without ever being allowed to speak her innermost thoughts, she feels herself to be almost invisible:


"Perhaps...it is the same with spinsters as with ghosts; and one has to be of their ranks in order to see them at all."


But when Margaret becomes a Lady Visitor at Millbank prison she quickly realises that the voiceless condition of the prisoners mirrors her own.


'Women must keep silent, in all parts of the prison; that they are forbidden to speak, to whistle, to sing, hum ‘or make any kind of voluntary noise’ unless at the express request of a matron or Visitor.'


Before long she finds herself captivated by the young, beautiful Selina, one of the few prisoners who receives no victors of any kind and who is shunned by the other prisoners. A renowned spiritualist medium in her former life, Selina, has been imprisoned for fraud and assault. Margaret believes that Selina has been wrongly convicted and the more deeply involved with the young woman she becomes, the more convinced she is of Selina's powers.


As in all of Waters' novels, narrators are not to be relied upon, however, and nothing is quite as it seems to be.  The only certainty is that at some point the plot will take a twist that will change your perspective on everything and everyone in the story.


Atmospheric, evocative and beautifully written, Affinity combines wonderfully clever plot design with extraordinary depth of character. It is a book about silence, about repression, about deception but, above all, it is a deeply moving story about forbidden love.