Goodreads Synopsis: Nan King, an oyster girl, is captivated by the music hall phenomenon Kitty Butler, a male impersonator extraordinaire treading the boards in Canterbury. Through a friend at the box office, Nan manages to visit all her shows and finally meet her heroine. Soon after, she becomes Kitty’s dresser and the two head for the bright lights of Leicester Square where they begin a glittering career as music-hall stars in an all-singing and dancing double act. At the same time, behind closed doors, they admit their attraction to each other and their affair begins.
“It was only love; and the better the act became, I thought, the more perfect that love grew.”
When I first picked up this book I expected to like it, after all what’s not to like about lesbian historical fiction? It’s a combination of two of my favorite genres. What I wasn’t expecting, was how much I ended up truly loving Tipping the Velvet.
Sarah Waters’ novel is historical fiction, she obviously has a great host of knowledge about the 1890’s, but sadly we don’t actually have much information about lesbians during this time. So Waters’ takes the era and imagines what life would have been like for sapphics. And I have to say that she did a fabulous job. Nan feels like she could be a real person discovering her sexual identity in a time when it was not acceptable. I loved watching her fall for Kitty and leave her family behind to explore a relationship neither of them would admit existed. I loved watching her break out of this idea that her love was supposed to be hidden, and learn to love herself and her sexuality loudly and boldly. I especially loved reading about all of her experiences, from being a performer to a sex worker, to finally becoming an activist. I could go on and on about Nan. I’d also like to note that it took me 417 pages before I realized what tipping the velvet actually meant, before that I thought it was just a really great title. Did anyone else not know what this phrase means?
I think what has made this book my favorite lesbian read so far was twofold. First, without spoiling anything, Nan does end up happy at the end. While I’m all for more ”grey” endings like The Price of Salt, which has the potential of happiness but isn’t quite there yet, I hate seeing LGBTQA+ characters end up in unhappy situations. I’m tired of stories that end with LGBTQA+ people dying or leaving their lovers. So it was really wonderful and refreshing to see Nan with a good ending.
The second reason that I really loved this book is the fact that Nan is a butch lesbian, which is not a usual thing in LGBTQA+ fiction. In fact off the top of my head I can’t think of any (if you know of some let me know!) It was fantastic watching her explore gender and her clothing style throughout the novel.
So yes, five stars all around. Beautifully written, fantastic unique character, highly recommend!