The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams


This is wonderful, and not at all what I was expecting from a historian turned novelist.

This is deliciously dark Victoriana.

I was pulled straight away into 1840, into the dark, crowded, dirty streets of East London.

The Man of Crows, a serial killer who has done terrible, terrible things to earn that soubriquet walks the streets and the city lives in fear.

Catherine Sougeil lives with her uncle in Spitalfields and she is troubled. She remembers a happier time when she lived with her parents in the country and she fears that she attracted the evil that brought that time to an end. She wonderful why Grace, her maid, has left her and why the Belle-Smiths were so willing to part with her. And she broods on The Man of Crows, sure that she understands what drives him to kill. Sure that she could, should do something …

Catherine is such a complex, intriguing character.

The narrative twists together her present her past, and the world around her.  A complex puzzle becomes not clear, but maybe a little less opaque.

This is not a straightforward narrative. It move through time. Perspectives shift. Threads appear and disappear. Reflecting maybe the confusion in Catherine’s head.

The atmosphere is wonderful: unsettling, dreamlike, sinister …

The prose is rich with period detail, with vivid descriptions.

I walked the streets of Victorian London. I looked into hearts and minds. I saw, I heard, I smelled, I touched, I tasted so many extraordinary things.

Evocative is, I think, the word I’m looking for,

I turned pages backwards and forwards, reading and re-reading, trying take everything in, trying to solve the puzzle.

There was always something to infuriate and something to intrigue.

Finally there was a resolution. Of sorts.

There were things that I didn’t understand. Questions left unanswered. Missing details.

I had to let them go.

The Pleasures of Men is a strange novel, and it is flawed, but there is much to hold the interest and attention, much to delight the senses.

And it is an intriguing debut novel.