I'm going through a breakup, and Sarah Waters's Fingersmith was thankfully a satisfying companion. The tone is dark enough to make me feel that at least I don't have it that bad, but it is not so emotionally devastating as I feared it could be as an overall reading experience.
The beginning of the book feels like a depraved romance novel--there is a Gothic mansion, a young, sheltered ward, and a dark, mysterious gentleman. It is a story of cons, love, trust, nature vs. nurture, knowing and perceiving.
The book is full of foreshadowing. It is suspenseful and feels like a fast read as one races to understand the whys of the plot points. Characterization is strong, and readers identify with scared, confused, angry characters trying to make sense of their situations. Two alternating narratives tell the stories of two girls similar yet living within different worlds. Lots of fully developed side characters appear but the story remains focused on a few main players.
Storyline themes include the London underworld of thieves, madhouses, a perverted, suffocating, sequestered upper class lifestyle, and being a lady's maid.
This is a sketchy write up, but the point of Readers' Advisory is to address how a book makes you feel rather than the plot. Plus this book is way better if you go into it with nothing, and I feel as though the reviewing community has been relatively good about keeping the experience pure for other readers.
I was reading this book at the same time as Sacred Hearts. They have similar themes of trapped and cloistered young women and the affect this has on their mental health, but the overall tone of the books is very different. The leisurely pace of Dunant's book also makes it dissimilar.