Fiction – paperback; Canongate; 199 pages; 2006.
Having loved Michel Faber‘s epic Victorian drama The Crimson Petal and the White when I read it recently, I decided to hunt out the sequel. Except The Apple is not actually a sequel but a collection of short stories about characters that featured in The Crimson Petal and the White. As the author points out in the foreword, “You needn’t have read that book in order to appreciate this one. The stories are, as stories should be, little worlds of their own”.
While I can’t disagree with this, I do think it helps if you’re at least familiar with the “original” book because it puts the stories into context. And part of the joy of reading The Apple is becoming re-acquainted with characters you already know and love, or, in some cases, rather detest!
This collection is obviously far less ambitious in scope than Faber’s magnus opus — it’s less than 200 pages and the typeface in my edition is especially large, for a start — but it still captures the very essence of Victorian London which made the first book such a wonderful, evocative read.
There are seven stories all told, and each one features a key figure first introduced in The Crimson Petal. However, all is not as it might seem: this is not a chronological follow-on. Instead, we get glimpses of some character’s lives before we first met them and others we meet several years down the line.
If you want to know what happens to William Rackham and his kidnapped daughter, Sophie, then you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re dying to find out what happened to the prostitute Sugar — and judging by Faber’s foreward, he got boxes of letters from frustrated readers demanding just that — then it’s no secret to say you’re not going to get any closure here. While Sugar does feature in the opening story Christmas in Silver Street, this is a story about her younger self.
Other familiar characters that star in their own short story include the maid Clara, Mr Bodley and Emmaline Fox.
Each story is a quick, satisfying read, but taken as a whole this is not the type of book that can in any way represent or recreate the wondrous beauty of the 833-page novel that inspired it. This is really for diehard fans only and even then you may find it a little disappointing. (I did, however, very much enjoy the 11-page foreword in which Faber shares some of the very many letters he received upon publication of The Crimson Petal, but whether it’s worth buying this collection just for that isn’t really for me to say.)