Despite the 2*, this is not exactly a bad book, merely opportunistic, frustrating and hugely disappointing after the wonderfully rich novel which it relates to, The Crimson Petal and the White (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/249591596), “TCP”.
There’s little point reading this collection unless you have read TCP, but huge disappointment if you have. I really wouldn’t advise anyone to read it.
Where TCP was a luxuriously long, deep novel, this is half a dozen very short stories, jumping on that bandwagon. In a lengthy Foreword that includes too much fan mail, Faber attempts to justify publishing these stories, but most of them are barely a snapshot, which could work, but really didn’t for me. It even opens with “Close your eyes”, an echo of the familiar “Watch your step”, but that only compounds the impression of a poor pastiche.
The first story illustrates Sugar’s love for Christopher, which perhaps makes her love for Sophie (never quite convincing enough, I thought) more plausible, but it is too mawkish.
The second story tells of a once respectable woman who has become a prostitute (very different form Sugar’s childhood initiation), focusing on a client with an unusual and increasingly unsavoury fetish.
We get a glimpse of the teenage years of Emmeline Fox ( neé Curlew), which is enlightening, but not exactly riveting.
Bodley has an existential moment, which was quite a surprise, but I never found him a very fleshed out or engaging character, and I felt much the same afterwards.
The eponymous story, “The Apple”, is a snippet of Sugar’s time at Mrs Castaway’s. It briefly explores what drove Sugar to attempt her novel and shows her ambitions at the early stage, when she first realised the usefulness of bluffing erudition, but I’m sure I was not the only reader to have surmised most of that already.
We catch up with William, a decade or more after TCP ended, but I preferred the ambiguity at the end of TCP over this, rather weak addition. William’s rewriting of history is perhaps not surprising in a man of his time, but it shows him in an unequivocally nastier light than in TCP: he blames Sugar for his subseqeunt misfortune, entirely overlooking that the only reason he had it was because he built the business first for her, and then with her.
The final story is reminiscences of an old man in the 1990s. It is the most complete story, and there are interesting aspects, but like the others, it takes away some of the mystery, without leaving the reader with anything remotely satisfying in return.
Despite the above, there are a few good thoughts:
• “Snow makes everyone and everything look equal.”
• The “original sin – of being born.”
• The prostitute’s paradox: “She’ll display every detail of her naked body to her customers, but she won’t allow passers by to ogle her outside of working hours.”
• Of Anthony Trollope, “He may be refreshingly unsentimental, but he always pretends he’s on the woman’s side, then lets the men win.”
• “Reading… is an admission of defeat… it shows that you believe other lives are more interesting than yours.”
The good news is that a completely separate collection of short stories, "Some Rain Must Fall", shows that Faber can
write wonderful short stories (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/615020188)