Publication Date: September 2003 by Canongate Books. Audio edition released May 2011, narrated by Jill Tanner.
Summary: In Victorian London, William Rackham spends his days in gentlemanly pursuits. In other words, he does very little besides drinking with his friends, writing pointless drivel and visiting prostitutes. His father, a perfume magnate, struggles to get his son to grow up and prepare to take over the factory.
William doesn’t take well to his father’s dictates, despite having his allowance cut off, putting his household financial straits. His wife, Agnes, a dreamy, innocent who suffers from poor mental and physical health, is forced to do without the life of luxury she grew up in, exacerbating her conditions.
William doesn’t appear to give a fig about any of this until he meets Sugar, a prostitute. While Sugar obviously appeals to his basest desires, William also finds deep satisfaction in talking to her. Although Sugar is self-educated, she has a sharp mind and can converse on a wide range of topics.
William eventually wants her all to himself and becomes her Sugar-Daddy (pun intended). He sets her up in his pied-à-terre with a generous allowance. All is well until Sugar, bored with inactivity, starts spying on the rest of William Rackham’s family.
Comments: This is a very long book (835 pages). I’m not sure how interested I would have been in the print edition, but it made for a great audio book. I looked forward to crawling under the covers at night and hearing more of Sugar’s story. Despite the length of the novel, I wanted even more of her story at the end of the book! This is the hallmark of a good yarn. The Crimson Petal and the White was the winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 2003. The book was also made for a TV miniseries in 2011.