- Publisher: Penguin Group (2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0241951399
- ISBN-13: 978-0241951392
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,367,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Pleasures of Men Paperback – 2012
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But nineteen-year-old Catherine Sorgeiul cannot abide that advice. She wanders the streets surrounding her uncle's house in Spitalfields where she lives, hoping to find some clue as to the identity of the murderer. Orphaned and sent to live with various relatives, Catherine is a disturbed young woman who has spent time in an asylum and isn't sure she can trust her own thoughts. She IS sure, for reasons she cannot explain, that she understands the Man of Crows, that she will be able to channel him and discover why he has been killing so many women around her. But what is it that Catherine really knows?
Kate Williams' fictional tale of a serial killer in London at the start of Queen Victoria's reign is a captivating one. She has previously written historical non-fiction about the same time period, so I knew before I read this book that her research on the setting would be solid (even as she wove a story about an imaginary serial killer decades before Jack the Ripper). But unlike other historical crime stories set in Victorian England, the setting was important but not crucial. In some books with a similar theme--and there are a lot of them--the setting of 19th-century London is almost like another character in the novel, with the sights, sounds and culture of the day factoring so heavily into the plot that one could not imagine the story being told in any other context. Alex Grecian's The Yard, for example, is more about the time and place than it is about the actual crimes. It could not have taken place in any other setting.
The Pleasures of Men is not just about Victorian London. It's about the psychology of Catherine Sorgeiul, a young woman so convinced of her own wickedess that neither she nor the reader is ever sure if she is simply imagining things or if she is really sinister. The story weaves in and out between Catherine's point of view and that of other characters--mostly victims of the Man of Crows--and sometimes is written as Catherine's imagining of other characters' perspectives. It's a tricky read in places because it's hard to tell what's real and what's not, but that's sort of the point. Is Catherine sane? Is she dangerous? Is any of it real? Kate Williams' novel is really about that slipperiest of characters: the unreliable narrator.
I've learned not to read other reviews of a book until I've written my own, and definitely not before I've read the book. I'm glad I followed that rule in this case, although I did find myself glancing at some of the reviews on Goodreads as I was writing this. People have some vastly different opinions of this book. There were those, like me, who loved it and gave it 4 or 5 stars. Then there were those who absolutely hated it and gave it 1 star. I was so surprised! Among the reviewers who hated the book there seemed to be a lot who gave up after 50 or 100 pages and didn't finish the book. Again, I was surprised. I couldn't even think of not finishing this book! Not only was I dying to find out "who done it," I was dying to find out "what they done," since there were times I wasn't sure if Catherine was imagining the whole thing. For me, this was a "stay up late to read 50 more pages" book. Clearly this isn't universal opinion, but I'm glad I didn't read those negative reviews before I started the book or I may have been unfairly prejudiced against it.
If I had any criticism of the book it would be that the title is slightly confusing. I'm assuming that "The Pleasures of Men" is meant to reference the fact that the vision of Victorian London that Williams presents is so sex-segregated that it seems as though men and women live in separate worlds and that women are often the victims of men's rules and wonts. However, I'm not sure this title best describes the heart of the book (but what do I know?). I thought maybe "The Man of Crows" might have been more evocative (again, what do I know?). Also, I thought the book could have used a few more descriptions of the murders themselves, not to be gratuitously violent, but to remind readers of how the murderer got his nickname. I wasn't completely clear on how the "hair stuffed into the victim's mouth" was meant to resemble a beak or why that was what people thought of when they saw it.
Otherwise, though, it's one of the best books I've read all month (okay, that doesn't sound like the highest of praise, but I've read 30-40 books in the 30 days, and this was in the top five).
For more reviews, please visit my book blog, Cozy Little Book Journal.
Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.
Catherine is a troubled young woman living with her uncle in London. She undergoes some trauma as a child, and is now largely isolated. Rarely leaving the house, her imagination is her main company. When a serial killer begins murdering young women, Catherine tries to get inside his mind. She believes she can understand him. Catherine goes to the places where he has killed, the dirty streets where he roams. She imagines his past in vivid detail. She discovers, however, that things are not as they seem--that truth is a lot closer to home.
This books is well written and clearly well researched. This descriptions of London are vivid, the poverty is palpable. Still, it took awhile for me to get into it. The story starts off quite slowly. With shifting narratives in the beginning, it's difficult to parse out who is actually speaking: is it another person, or Catherine's imagination? Things becomes more clear in time, but at the start it's a bit off-putting. At some point, however, the novel managed to snag my interest. I wanted to find out what Catherine's childhood trauma was, as well as the identity and motivations of the Man of Crows.
Bits of the plot can feel a bit contrived, though, and the biggest flaw is that it feels lacking in an apparent coherence. Still, the book overall is very dark and beautifully imagined. Anyone interested in Victorian England may enjoy this gothic thriller.
[Disclosure: I recieverd this book through a Shelf Awareness giveaway.]
The novels' heroine Catherine Sorgeuil is dependent upon her uncle with whom she lives, and is tormented by her past which causes her to believe she is having neurotic episodes. There is a murderer at large who is preying on young, working class women and his crimes are being sensationalized within the press and the street gossip. Catherine finds herself becoming obsessed with the crimes of the Man of Crows and finds herself being drawn deeper and deeper into this dark murderous abyss.
The novel jumps between characters and timelines with each chapter, so you really need to be aware of where you are at within the novel as you can find yourself becoming confused at times. Williams captures the atmosphere of Victorian London well, and gives us vivid descriptions of streets, houses and it populace. However, it does feel a bit jerky at times and doesn't always flow fluently.