on August 7, 2012
The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams is a mystery and suspense story set in 1840s England. Catherine Sorgeiul, an orphan, lives with her eccentric uncle on Princes Street, and, at 19, is on the verge of being a spinster. Forced by her uncle to try to find a suitable match, yet confined to her dismal and eerie home in a lower-class part of London, she yearns to escape from the drudgery. When the Man of Crows, a horrific serial killer, begins to wage war on poor girls throughout the city, and leaves them dead in the position of a wounded bird, Catherine becomes intrigued (it is never clear why). She decides to chronicle the events in writing in order to better understand the victims and to understand the motives of the Man of Crows. As she dives further into the horrors that captivate the city, she begins to fear that she may be causing this evil. When her former maid is found dead and her current maid goes missing, Catherine feels overwhelmed with no one to turn to. She fears that writing about the Man of Crows may have led her to become a pawn in a larger game and becomes determined to solve the mystery on her own.
While this book has a great plot idea, it is awkwardly developed and shifts between narrators with insignificant and unknown characters describing events. Also, there are a number of details about Catherine and her family that are left out until much later in the novel, leaving the reader attempting to make sense of all of the pieces. Additionally, the story isn't ever resolved - there is no closure at the end and Catherine seems rather indifferent about the murders at the end, despite knowing that the murderer could still be a threat. I really wanted to like this book, but the story doesn't come together. If you are a patient reader, and willing to work with underdeveloped characters, this could be a good fit. It is a truly unique idea.
on September 6, 2012
Our main character is such a complex and intriguing person, severely traumatized by losing her brother and treated poorly by her parents after that incident. her fascination with the serial killer also makes for a terrific plot. Thumbs up!
on August 8, 2012
The Pleasures of Men is a dark, gritty story of a young, awkward woman, a serial killer seeking out underprivileged girls in London and how the two ultimately come to affect each other's actions. As the story unfolds slowly a foreboding and creepy feeling permeates the pages and does not let up, even as the reader turns the final page.
The Pleasures of Men is exactly what I would picture a good gothic Victorian novel to be. It's dark, dirty and ominous and while the author does describe how the victims of the Man of Crows are murdered it is not done in such a graphic, gory way as to be cringe worthy. The description of the desperation and poverty of the early years of Queen Victoria's reign really helps to solidify the panic and fear that the people of London experienced in their everyday lives as well as when the murders happened. The strict division of the classes as well as the restrictions placed on women at that time was also well described and really gives a feeling of overall oppression and a need to break free.
My only complaint with The Pleasures of Men is that, at times, the descriptive nature was so florid that I had trouble figuring out exactly what the author was trying to say. This was especially true when exploring the inner workings of Catherine's increasingly disturbed mind and her feelings and made it hard for me to stay present in the story and not stop and ponder what was going on. I would have been able to stay more enmeshed with the storyline if the descriptions were more direct at those times.
What impressed me the most with the story was the fact that I had no idea who the Man of Crows was until he identified himself. My mind kept swirling around a variety of candidates and just when I thought I had it figured out something would happen and that person would be shown not to be the killer. Being someone who can usually figure out the ending before it occurs I was really impressed with the way the author unfolded the plot and finally revealed the killer. I also liked that the story ends in a way that leaves the reader unsure of the future of the main characters or whether they will ever truly be free from their various demons.
I think anyone who likes a good suspenseful murder mystery, novels set in Victorian London or a book that tests your perception of good and evil will enjoy The Pleasures of Men. I would definitely be interested in seeing what this author came up with next.
on November 13, 2012
Once engrossed in this tale, you come to smell the streets of London in 1840. As Catherine walks the streets, you feel the misty air on your face, smell the stink of garbage and wet dog hair and, yes, you feel the fear as she wonders - is HE the Man of Crows? You feel the adrenaline as she turns to run.
Abandoned by her family because of her "evil nature", Catherine lives with her eccentric Uncle in London. She has few friends and fewer romantic prospects. She remains focused on a blackness inside.
And then she begins to hear about the murders occurring nearby. She's compelled to write about them. While writing, she experiences a connection with the murderer and she begins to have visions, experiences what she's writing about.
Soon, unexplainable things happen. Her favorite things go missing. Her hairbrush, her slippers. And then one day, someone writes BACK in her manuscript. Him.
This book is a terrifying but thrilling journey into the mind of a woman who believes she's evil and her evil will join her with an evil man, protecting her and only her from him. Did she believe she could stop him?
What actually happened to Catherine and her family is slowly revealed in the latter part of the book.
I thought the story was well told and gripped me to the end.
on September 20, 2012
Although I too was initially confused when the narrative switched characters, I was able to follow the story line, and I enjoyed this book thoroughly. What I found most compelling was the relationship between Catherine and her uncle. His genuinely evil seediness and her assumed darkness (and innocence as well) combined to create much interest in the nature of their relationship both current and past. The book was made even better for me when I read the acknowledgments. It's always a pleasure to get to know the author a bit, and so it was with Kate Williams. I look forward to reading her biographies as well.
When I first laid eyes on the UK cover of The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams, I just had to have it. The bloody knife against the velvet Victorian dress, pale skin, and red lips - all spoke of something creepily subversive and gothic. The synopsis, when I read it, supported my wild excitement. When I got my copy, which bore the US cover - I was disappointed with its now mundane, boudoir look, but I was still beyond eager for the story.
I thought for sure I would like The Pleasures of Men. I wanted to love it. However, and it truly pains me to say this, more disappointment was to come.
The Pleasures of Men started out, like most love affairs, so promising and intoxicating. When I read the first chapter, plunging me into the seedy, smelly, and ultimately horror-stricken scene in Spitalfields Market stall in London, I was struck by how delightfully visceral the writing was. Yes, I get gleeful over maggots and blood and rotten meat (but only in fiction). It reminded me of another book I loved, Perfume by Patrick Suskind.
Written from Catherine's first person point of view, I was never quite sure if she was slowly going mad or was being oppressed by her uncle and society or both. I appreciated the social commentary on women of the time period and how it related to the Jack the Ripper-like murders of prostitutes. Again, very promising.
The unreliability of the narrator held my interest in taut suspense, at first. Williams skilfully tantalized questions throughout the story, such as what traumatic event induced Catherine's nervous breakdown and what was her uncle really doing when he was conducting business. Williams also successfully gave a sinister sheen to almost every character so that I became almost as nervous as Catherine herself, suspecting each one, even Catherine, of some guilty secret.
Williams's attention to historical detail is convincing and authentic - I have no doubt that her research into the time period was thorough and impeccable. I understand that she has written two nonfiction books, one on Emma Hamilton and the other about Queen Victoria and Princes Charlotte.
Although she is a talented writer and apparently quite a credible historian - where her creative writing and knowledge of history intersected in The Pleasures of Men is where it went wrong for me. As a very sheltered 19-year-old writing about the gruesome murders, Catherine's imagined murder scenarios, her very detailed narratives of the victims and of the serial killer were simply unbelievable. Not unbelievable because they were not authentic, unbelievable because how can a young woman who can barely go outside by herself , who's been locked up one way or another most of her life, whose reading materials are even censored possibly imagine in realistic detail how a prostitute lives? The living conditions of the poor? How a man can execute a murder so precisely?
Were Catherine's too-knowledgeable imaginings meant to create doubt in the reader's mind? Was I suppose to suspect her of being the murderer? Of somehow channeling the murderer's perspective by some supernatural means? For me, the leap was too great. I think The Pleasures of Men would have been better executed had these narratives been clearly split into Catherine's first person alternating with third person omniscient. The merging of the two to create suspense also created too much uncertainty and disbelief. Especially when I found out who the murderer actually was - and then my disappointment was bitter.
So, though The Pleasures of Men had so many elements that should have made it a pleasure to read, it unfortunately just fell short. It almost seems that Williams would have been better off just writing a straight nonfiction book about sexuality and crimes against women in Victorian London. I'm sure there's plenty of horror to mine there.
"Oh you dead girls. You think you can hide from me.
"Yellow-haired, red-haired, dark, brunette, you are all the same, caring only for who looks at you, not for what you see. You saunter through Oxford Street and St. James's, believing--oh how you believe--that you are kept safe from the evils of the city by the admiring gaze of men and the cushioning of wealth, windows shining like oiled skin, piled with goods from across our great Empire. Silks and fruits, minor swirls of sugar to be scattered over the sweet sponge, pink-iced cakes of your tiny, pitiful lives.
"You lie to yourselves. Such things are empty baubles, and those who believe in them live on false dreams. And you are not free or happy or bale to choose, for because you are here, you are already dead. You give nothing to the world, you simper and take a delight in flashing your skirts at men and provoking them to madness--and then , oh yes, then you cry innocence. I remark you as I walk over in the city, this city that is my possession and is to you a mirror for your vanities.
"I see you.
on July 24, 2014
All the men in the book are secretly turned on by women in danger, distress, pain, or weakened circumstances of some kind. Is the author saying that's a fact or is it a product of the hysterical narrator's perception?
on August 24, 2012
The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams is a thriller set in the late 1800s in London. It features a young woman who becomes obsessed with a serial killer that is going after "working girls." This chilling book is one readers will want to devour quickly, so be sure you have set time aside to do just that before starting it.
This is a book set in the 1840s London. Some authors have good intentions to do a period style book, but don't quite deliver. Kate Williams is able to fully deliver with Pleasures of Men. Perhaps it is because she lives in London, England and is also a historian. Whatever magic she has, it is entwined in her writings, and the reader fully benefits from this.
This author is able to captivate her readers with finely tuned details and suspense that holds the reader's interest throughout the novel. This is such a good thriller and mystery novel that I honestly don't want to give anything way in this review. It would ruin it if I were to give any spoilers, so I won't be doing that.
Overall, I think this is an excellent novel. Be prepared to read this story deep into the night for the biggest surprise of all in the end. I highly recommend it.
* Thank you to the publisher of The Pleasures of Men, Voice, for providing me with a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed are my own.
Set in 1840's London, `The Pleasures of Men' tells the tale of orphaned nineteen year old Catherine Sorgeiul after she is taken in by her uncle. Uncle lives in genteel poverty amidst books and anthropological artifacts. Encouraged to not think about the tragedies of her past that led her to be institutionalized for a time, but given nothing to do that interests her, she becomes obsessed with the Man of Crows, a serial killer who is targeting young women. To try and get a handle on how he thinks, she begins to write about the victims without realizing that she is drawing bad intentions to herself. Soon she finds herself unable to trust anyone.
The atmosphere is wonderfully created- the heat of the city in summer, the claustrophobic life Catherine lives, the fear, and the uncertainty as to what is real and what isn't - and made me feel like I was there. It was murky and shadowy, as I imagine Catherine's mind must have been. As more and more peculiar discoveries are made that don't seem to fit together quite right, the mystery deepens instead of being solved.
However, the story changes point of view and point in time frequently, from Catherine to the several girls who are murdered to, finally, the murderer. This made it very hard to follow. Most of the characters were poorly developed; perhaps it was to allow us to see that Catherine wasn't really interested in them and just saw their surface, but it made it hard for me to care about them. Catherine herself, despite her situation, was hard to care for. The story seemed to lack a clear focus, and in the end it left me disappointed.
on April 1, 2013
This book was not what I expected. It was kind of a medium pace read, but very detailed. I could see every bit of it, down to the water stain on the dresses.
I very much enjoyed the story as well as the darkness of it.