“Fingersmith” vs. “Tipping the Velvet” — Which First Page Is Groovier?

11 07 2011

Today we are comparing the first pages of two of Sarah Waters’ books: Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet.

WHICH FIRST PAGE IS GROOVIER? “Tipping the Velvet” wins.

Both first pages are quite good, but “Tipping the Velvet” has extra oomph. Waters’ voice is what carries these first pages. No overarching conflict is inherent, but I don’t care because the writing is so good and engaging.

“Tipping the Velvet” draws me in more. I have no desire for seafood and oysters, but by golly, I want to witness, touch and gape over one of these Whitstable oysters. I can picture the town and the oysters as if I were there right now. One reason this opening works: this way of life is unfamiliar to me–and to most people, I reckon. We’re drawn in by the possibility of learning about this person who was born in an oyster parlor. Like we want to touch or taste these oysters, we want to get to know the narrator.

“Fingersmith,” like “Tipping the Velvet,” begins with back story. And the back story in “Fingersmith,” while not bad per se, is not as engaging as in “Tipping the Velvet.”  The first page of “Fingersmith” does paint a compelling picture of an orphan and uses nice phrases (for example, “drunken woman catching at the ribbons of my dress”). Also books in the time period it is set in began with lots of back story. In this sense, “Fingersmith” fits great.
An important lesson: if you begin with back story, your voice and your writing better be extremely engaging.

Agree? Disagree? Take the poll.




3 responses

11 07 2011
Melanie Fisher

I agree that “Tipping the Velvet” has a stronger first page. The very first line engaged me as a reader. As if the author were asking me directly, “Have you ever tasted a Whitstable oyster?” Yes, both books start with backstory, which can be a turn off. However, “Tipping the Velvet” gave a sense of wanting. Wanting to be there, wanting to see the “chequered cloths” and the “girl with a rosy cheek”. Very descriptive and engaging.

12 07 2011
Doris Riley Short

I didn’t get enough inspiration from either of these to form an opinion.

12 07 2011

Why didn’t you get inspiration? I’m very curious to know especially for the oyster first page. I really liked that one.

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