The Apple: Crimson Petal Stories is a companion to Michel Faber’s famous novel The Crimson Petal and the White. It’s what it says on the tin: a collection of seven short stories set in the Crimson Petal universe. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen The Crimson Petal and the White, but it is an epic doorstopper. I took one good look at my as-of-yet unread copy and whispered “No.” Definitely not. I wanted something short and so decided to start with The Apple first. I hope I haven’t spoiled details from The Crimson Petal and the White, but if I have, oh well.
All the stories in The Apple, bar the final one, are slices of life during London Victoriana. Only the ending story is set during the Edwardian era. Largely plotless, these loosely connected stories serve more as peeks into how characters of different classes lived, from those living in brothels to those residing in gentrified homes. Sometimes the tales overlap as a respectable gentleman thinks of a prostitute and vice versa. There’s allusions to historical happenings such as slavery in the Americas and the suffragette movement.
I stormed through this book in two days but could have easily finished The Apple in one sitting if I had the chance. This a very fluid, very easy read. There’s no heaps of description to bog you down, no elaborate stylings to slow your reading. This is instafix and I almost feel recharged for my next read. But that’s not to say Faber has no skills. Some of the word choices in The Apple are lifted from the Victorian era the stories are set in, yet somehow Faber made The Apple incredibly readable.
Something that completely disarmed me was how funny The Apple turned out to be. I chuckled loads. Normally, I expect –and like- my historical fiction to be serious and strait-laced. But there were many turns of phrase and dialogue that had me giggling, which really added to the entertainment factor of The Apple.
From the story “Chocolate Hearts from the New World:”
In the professional judgment of Dr James Curlew, his unfortunate daughter had, at the very most, five years left before it was all over. Not her life, you understand; her prospects for marriage.
From the story “The Fly, and Its Effect upon Mr Bodley:”
Girl Number Two is wholly unfamiliar to him, a sloe-eyed Asiatic with lustrous black hair.
‘Mr. Bodley, meet our newest,’ says Mrs. Tremain. ‘She is from the Malay Straits. Her name is something like Pang or Ping, but we call her Lily. Lily, stand up and greet the gentleman.’
Nudged under the elbow by Girl Number One, Lily scrambles to her feet, and curtseys. She is perhaps four foot eleven, but very beautiful.
‘Fuck, sir. Fuck,’ she says, brightly.
‘We are teaching her English, sir,’ says Girl Number One, ‘beginning with the essentials.’
Despite being very much entertained by The Apple, it wasn’t a very memorable read at the end of the day. It was great as a quick and easy read and certainly did its job very well, but I don’t think it stands head and shoulders above other quick, easy reads. The Apple didn’t feel exceptional and some of the stories feel throwaway, as though they were rough drafts of scenes Faber considered adding into The Crimson Petal and the White. That’s fine though. I doubt Faber’s intention with The Apple was to create a masterpiece. More like to have some writerly fun.