Suffragettes, Circuses, tigers and journalists: a bizarre jaunt around Victorian London in The Hourglass Factory

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, London, Writing

IMG_8738 Frankie George is sent by her newspaper for her first proper piece – a profile of suffragette-trapeze artist Ebony Diamond. But while she’s on the trail, Ebony lashes out at her then disappears mysteriously in the middle of her performance. Frankie gains a snake-charmer and dubious errand boy as sidekicks along the way as well as meeting a vast variety of characters, and quest to find Miss Diamond uncovers plots and secrets that she would never have dreamt of. 

I really, really, wanted to really really like this book. I started reading it just before Christmas, and with Victorian London, Suffragettes, circuses, plots, mysteries and journalists I was anticipating a novel of complete delight. And true, some of it was there. The plot swung around a huge variety of intriguing settings, bizarre twists and colourful characters – but for me, ultimately, this novel was lacking.

The plot uncovered excitingly and sufficiently misleadingly, the many pieces gradually coming together at the end. I was held enough by the mystery to keep reading despite my frustrations, though I do find that at the end I’m still not quite sure how it all came about.

I also LOVED the jaunts around London. Now that I live here I recognised a large portion of the street names that were mentioned, and loved to be able to imagine the characters in a place that I actually know. The setting was fun!

Probably the main obstacle to my enjoying it was the main character. Frankie is obtuse, circumspect about her past, and to me, rather unlike-able. I just couldn’t work her out at all – is she very ambitious, or just too lazy? Passionate about women’s rights or indifferent? Lesbian or not? Her complexities were presumably meant to keep us hanging throughout the book, but I mainly found that I didn’t care.

Which was a real shame, because really I would have liked to be on her side. She’s a female journalist in Victorian London, for goodness sake – you would have thought I could easily get alongside. But instead I found myself wishing that Ebony Diamond, perhaps, was the main character of the book.

Another thing this would have helped was the desire I had to see more of the inner workings of the suffragettes. I realised that I’ve never read any books based on them, whereas I would be very very interested to. And indeed, I was here – so this felt a bit like a waste of an incredible subject matter.

So it was a good book, but not quite as good as I hoped. And if Frankie George plans to reappear for any more books I’d need to see some serious development in her character to be convinced.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.

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