Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Continuing my quest for quality smut . . .
Set in late nineteenth-century England, we are introduced to young Nancy Astley, narrator of this story, who lives with and is well-loved by her working-class family who run an oyster shop in Whitstable. One fateful evening, Nancy attends a show at a local music hall where she lays eyes for the first time on Kitty Butler, a masher upon the stage – and Nancy is forever changed. She becomes entranced by Kitty, and a friendship of sorts blossoms between the two, and it’s not long before Nancy leaves her family to seek her fortune, along with Kitty, in London. The two become secret lovers and a huge success together on the stage of theaters and music halls throughout London – until Kitty breaks Nancy’s heart. This is only the beginning, however, of Nancy’s adventures, both sexual and otherwise, which range from tender to violent – at times nearly tragic, and often bawdy and hilarious. More story than sex, the sex scenes are, however, very ribald and graphic – and yes, many of them are lesbian scenes, for this is a story of lesbianism. Don’t go getting all squeamish – anyone who is a fan of a good story, regardless of sexual orientation, will appreciate this book.
What I also loved about this book, aside from the stellar story-telling, is the fact that it’s smutty without being to the detriment of anyone’s person. Not that Nancy doesn’t stumble along the way, or is never victimized, but for the most part, she takes her fate into her own hands and owns it.
Filled with wonderfully developed, colorful characters and well-described scenes and settings, I was transported when reading this to a different time and place – I could see the colors and smell the aromas and hear the people. In the end, this is a love story – and let me just say that I’m usually too much a cynic to appreciate love stories, but this one left a tear in my eye. I was sorry to read the last sentence of the book and will miss the characters now. Sarah Waters is a gifted story-teller, and I can’t wait to get my hands on some more of her work.
By the way, in case you’re wondering, “tipping the velvet” is Victorian slang for cunnilingus 😉