Monday, October 8, 2012

REVIEW: The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams

Synopsis (from Amazon): July 1840: The young Queen Victoria has just entered her third year on the throne when a major recession brings London's desperate and destitute into its sweltering streets. While the city crackles with tension, orphaned Catherine Sorgeiul stays locked away in her uncle's home, a peculiar place where death masks adorn the walls and certain rooms are strictly forbidden. Nineteen years old and haunted by a dark past, Catherine becomes obsessed with a series of terrible murders of young girls sweeping the city. Details of the crimes are especially gruesome--the victims' hair has been newly plaited and thrust into their mouths, and their limbs are grotesquely folded behind them, like wounded birds--and the serial killer is soon nicknamed the Man of Crows.Catherine begins writing stories about the victims--women on their own and vulnerable in the big city--and gradually the story of the murderer as well. But she soon realizes that she has involved herself in a web of betrayal, deceit, and terror that threatens her and all those around her.

My Thoughts: This review has been a long time in coming because I wasn't sure exactly what to write about it.  Catherine Sorgeiul is a 19 year old girl who now lives with her Uncle after enduring a tragic past which involved a stay at a mental institution.  Now she lives in virtual seclusion with her Uncle and as is bound to happen with a stir crazy girl fresh from the asylum whose dark past secrets make her think she's evil, she fixates on the killings that have been occurring in the neighborhood.  Called the Man of Crows, the murderer brutally mutilates young girls, plaits their hair and stuffs it in their mouths to resemble beaks.  Catherine decides to write about the Man of Crows and in order to keep the ideas flowing, takes to venturing out at night in an attempt to shadow the man himself.  As her writings continue, Catherine realizes that the murders are hitting closer and closer to home.  Could the Man of Crows be someone she knows?  Could he be coming after her?

Outside of her night time wanderings and musings on the murders, Catherine is being encouraged by her Uncle to integrate into polite society.  While she manages to befriend the shy Miss Grey, she becomes something of an amusement for the mean-girl Bell-Smyth sisters, especially Edwarda who forces her maids into having liaisons with her. 

What I liked about this novel is it maintained the tension throughout.  With Catherine being a little off, you never quite know whether her belief that she is evil and that the killer is connected to her is a bout of extreme paranoia or whether she might actually be on to something.  It was definitely very atmospheric and I had an easy time picturing the seedy, filthy, crowded streets of Victorian London.  What I didn't like was even though the novel kept me turning the pages, the big reveal as to the identity of the Man of Crows and the big family secret that has burdened Catherine her entire life left me kind of underwhelmed.  I came away unsatisfied by the ending and with the thought that knowing what we do at the end about her family its no wonder Catherine is a little mad. It felt there wasn't really a sense of closure at the end of the book.  Recommend if Victorian Gothic is your thing or if you like books that are a little bizarre.

 This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


  1. I've yet to read any overly positive reviews of this one so, even though it is on my shelf, I'm not sure that I'll be reading it any time soon.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Sounds a bit too creepy for me. Hope that college is good for you.