Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
Another book club pick, this is one hell of a historical novel. Set in a London very similar to Dickens', "Fingersmith" follows the twists and turns of a very bad con. Susan Trinder has been raised in a house devoted to two illegal tasks: baby farming and the distribution of stolen goods. She's a rarity, brought up among Mrs. Sucksby's other orphans as her own daughter, though always reminded, proudly, of her murderess mother. When Gentleman comes to her with a job offer that will leave her with three thousand pounds, it's simply too good to pass up. The plan: pretend to be a maid to a lady out in the country, a young woman who, once married, will inherit a vast sum. After Susan convinces this lady, Maud, to marry Gentleman (known to Maud as Richard Rivers), they will trick her and stick her in a madhouse so that Gentleman receives the money in her stead. It's a nasty plan, and as Susan gets to know Maud, her apprehension grows. It starts out fairly formulaic, but the end of the first part and beginning of the second turn everything about on its head. This is no Dickens novel, this is a taut mystery as much about the pull of nature vs. nurture as it is about an illicit current that runs beneath even the most everyday occurrences. It's a long book, 600 pages, and thick with a language that takes a bit getting used to, but well worth the read. Halfway through, I kept saying to myself, "how on earth did she think of this stuff?!" Kudos to Waters for taking a stale story and making it brand new. I can't wait to discuss it with the other book club members.