Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue
A friend/professor of mine recommended this author to me, and it was a very enjoyable read. Using a reference to Mary Saunders, a servant who killed her mistress as inspiration, Donoghue weaves an almost four hundred page novel based on that simple, true historical fact. Knowing that in the end Mary will kill her mistress might make her a hard character to like, but despite that knowledge she is easy to sympathize with. Born in a working class family, Mary is attracted to the finer things in life, and after her mother kicks her out, Mary turns to prostitution.
While overall it is an entertaining story watching a girl's rise and fall and her chance at redemption, there is much more to it. Donoghue explores class issues and how truly impossible it is to rise above one's station in the world, so that Mary is trapped no matter what. She is intelligent, and ambitious but in her world there is nothing for her to do with that ambition. While Mary may at times seem superficial, her struggle to rise above her class is about more than just that. Objects are simply the way she knows how to measure one's station, and that's part of the reason she desires them. Also, she simply appreciates nice things but since she is simply a servant, this is a bad thing for her.