The Pleasures of Men | Kate Williams

The Pleasures of Men is a tale of Victorian murders, hypocrisy and inhumanity.

Catherine Sorgeiul lives with her Uncle in a rambling house in London’s East End. She has few companions and little to occupy the days beyond her own colourful imagination. But then a murderer strikes, ripping open the chests of young girls and stuffing hair into their mouths to resemble a beak, leading the press to christen him The Man of Crows. And as Catherine hungrily devours the news, she finds she can channel the voices of the dead … and comes to believe she will eventually channel The Man of Crows himself.

But the murders continue to panic the city and Catherine gradually realizes she is snared in a deadly trap, where nothing is as it first appears … and lurking behind the lies Catherine has been told are secrets more deadly and devastating than anything her imagination can conjure.

This could have been so good. This should have been so good. But I am all disappointment.

I started it with high hopes, and initially the book carried them – the language was exquisite, building claustrophobia with every sentence. Everything about it was all nightmarish dreamland emptiness. Glorious descriptions of a fog-ridden, soulless city and with Catherine’s almost erotic diary entrys about the Man of Crows it was tense and disturbing. Catherines mind is confused, she is isolated, different, unhappy. The depictions of that confusion and isolation and how it begins to bleed into the real world are expertly crafted. The confusion becomes the book.

But after all, that became its downfall. The story simply made no sense. It was full of deus ex machina and ridiculous premises. Characters were introduced and forgotten. It is one thing to try and build a narrative out of the confusion of an isolated and unhappy young woman, and another to leave your reader confused and unhappy themselves. The ending. Whoosh. Ridiculous. Skipping ahead in time only reveals your plot holes, it doesn’t cover them.

Good writing does not make up for poor plotting and calling yourself ‘literary’ does not make it OK to confuse.

It’s a shame. A harsher editor and some more coherent plotting would have made this a read again and again and again sort of book. But I can’t in good consicence recommend a confusing mess to anyone.

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