Martyn Bedford

Beyond The Brothel

The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories

By

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Michel Faber has, so we are told, bowed to popular demand. The ending of his bestselling novel The Crimson Petal and the White (2002) prompted hundreds of readers’ letters demanding to know the fate of his protagonists – Sugar, the Victorian prostitute-turned-nanny, and Sophie, the little girl with whom she absconds. Letters, too, from those who loved the novel so much they simply wanted more. The result is this spin-off collection, and how Canongate’s publicist must have relished promoting a book written to please an adoring public. Except that it isn’t. This is no movie-style sequel: ‘Crimson Petal 2 … just when you thought it was safe to go back into the brothel.’ In fairness, the publishers – and Faber himself, in a foreword – take pains to portray The Apple as a compromise, true to the integrity of the original novel but also to the aesthetic legitimacy of these stories themselves. Faber wrote them for himself, as much as for his fans: he had unfinished business with some of the characters he’d created. You don’t need to have read the earlier book, he argues, to appreciate the stories in this one. Nor is this an exercise in tying up narrative loose ends; indeed, these tales invite new speculations to replace the few that are resolved. Quite right, too. As Faber points out: ‘Isn’t it fun, at the end of a book … to construct what happens next in our imaginations?’

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