Well this was.....interesting.
Okay nevermind, I'm just being nice which isn't really like me. This book was disappointing and just plain bad. I'm going to try to refrain from cursing but it may prove too difficult.
First, let us begin with the quote by the Daily Telegraph describing the book: "Lavishly crammed with the songs, smells, and costumes of late Victorian England." Sounds like a winning historical fiction novel, does it not? Well do not be fooled! It is not crammed with anything about the Victorian era, unless you count the messed up main character of Nan. Costumes? Yes, there were costumes. In fact the entire aspect of it being historical fiction is simply needed for the premise of cross dressing females for entertainment. It pretty much stops there. It is really just lesbian erotica disguised as historical fiction. But the disguise only goes cover/synopsis deep.
Another quote in the summary also fools you: "an erotic, lushly detailed historical novel that bursts with life and dazzlingly casts the turn of the century in a different light." Erotic? Yes. Lushly detailed? Meh. Historical? NOT. Bursts with life? Well a promiscuous life is still a life I suppose. And no I did not see the turn of century in a different light because it never FELT like the turn of the century! Seriously, I do not understand the praise for this book unless they are only taking the erotica aspect into account.
*sigh* I would love to say that the only reason I disliked the book was due to false advertising but that is not the case.
The main character, Nan, is terrible. She is obsessive, slutty, and exhibits no growth throughout the book until the last few pages (which seem to come out of nowhere). She begins the book by becoming obsessed with Kitty, a cross dressing performer. Obsession is not pretty folks and it is even less pretty to read about. The entire first third of the book felt like an ode to Kitty, I just felt like screaming at Nan to get on with it already! Have a thought that DOESN'T involve Kitty. AH! She does not improve after the breakup either (not a spoiler, it is contained in the summary). She simply becomes the town whore in record time, and not just with women either. She dresses as a boy and gives men blowjobs as well (why? I don't know. Seemed like some sort of psychological revenge to me.). She goes from woman to woman after this and eventually lands on the doorstep begging to a woman she has only met once. I'll let you discover that gem by yourself.
A major part of my frustration with the novel was the constant allusion to things, such as the title. Do you know what it means? I generally do not think much of titles and I figure if I need to know why it was called that I will come to understand in the book. Well had I just known I would have probably been prepared for the book a bit better (or maybe never read it). The title is sexual and refers to a sexual act on a woman, nothing I really need to specify here.
Had I known about the title's meaning I would not have had to spend chapter after chapter wondering if the author was messing with us or was just accidentally making everything seem sexual. For example, oysters. Nan comes from an oyster restaurant family and there are endless descriptions and love paid to them. Now oysters elicit a negative response from me purely because I'm allergic to shellfish and I happen to be vegan. But it wasn't until the author kept mentioning oysters chapter after chapter that I started to wonder if it meant more than just being Nan's roots. You guessed it, it refers to the same thing a "claim" does, female genitalia.
As the story moves on I kept noticing more and more sexual innuendo and blatant material. Now I admit to having a dirty mind at times but there is no way I read THIS much into this damn book. For example, who has ever heard of a well-lubricated glance? Not me! Well it just so happens that the only person who had such a look in the entire book was a guy who was asking the disguised-as-a-boy Nan for oral or anal play. WHAT? In THAT freakin' moment you use well-lubricated as a description?!?! *facepalm*
The author also has a major fixation on using gay and queer as adjectives. You might begin to wonder if she knew of any other words. The words begin as meaning "happy" and "weird" as they did in that day. But there is a weird transition near the end where they start meaning the modern version and you had to re-read sentences for them to make sense. If I drank alcohol these adjectives would have made an excellent drinking game. I also would have been drunk within chapters, which probably would have greatly increased my enjoyment of the book. So win-win?
Seriously, could she bash us over the heads more? I have no problem reading about gay individuals/couples or topics and I fully support gay rights. But why did the author choose to write her book this way? The novel does not have to be saturated in gay/lesbian innuendo/words etc. in order to be good or even realistic. It just comes off as a the author either being VERY insecure about lesbianism (I'm a lesbian!! I'M a LESBIAN!! Who constantly reminds someone what they are unless they're insecure?). Or maybe she is just obsessed with female genitalia and being gay? I don't get it, I've never read a novel with straight characters that insisted on using straight as a key adjective or something equivalent. But again I don't read erotica, maybe it's out there too. Gay/straight, whatever, if you need to make it THAT clear you are insecure. Period.
This book was a complete waste of time. I do NOT recommend it unless you are looking for erotica.