| Lyrical, gripping, melancholy, heartrending and sensual – Affinity is one of Sarah Waters’ best novels, and also one of her most depressing. I believe even Waters herself admitted to being eager to escape from the dank, grey walls of Millbank Prison.
Affinity is the story of Margaret Prior:
Margaret is “lady visitor” recovering from a suicide attempt due to the death of her father and the death of her romantic hopes. She is counseling female prisoners who have found themselves heading toward a dark path.
While at Millbank, Margaret meets a young “medium” named Selina Dawes, and her beauty, stillness and mystery intrigues Margaret, bringing her back to the prison day after day to visit with her.
Desperate and filled with longing, Margaret is convinced by Selina to help her escape from Millbank, and in true Waters fashion, nothing is as it seems. Margaret’s final thoughts are truly heartbreaking, because you know she had finally imagined herself free, in love, unconstrained by “false boundaries” — and yet the dream was never quite what Margaret believed.
‘It is a world that is made of love. Did you think there is only the kind of love your sister knows for her husband? Did you think there must be here, a man with whiskers, and over here, a lady in a gown? Haven’t I said, there are no whiskers and gowns where spirits are? And what will your sister do if her husband should die, and she should take another? Who will she fly to then, when she has crossed the spheres? For she will fly to someone, we will all fly to someone, we will all return to that piece of shining matter from which our souls were torn with another, two halves of the same. It may be that the husband your sister has now has that other soul, that has the affinity with her soul—I hope it is. But it may be the next man she takes, or it may be neither. It may be someone she would never think to look to on the earth, someone kept from her by some false boundary…’ – Selina Dawes