Book Review: The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams

pleasures of men

TITLE: The Pleasures of Men
AUTHOR: Kate Williams
GENRE: Historical fiction/mystery
PUBLISHER//YEAR OF PUBLICATION: Michael Joseph (Penguin) // 2012
ISBN: 9780241951392
PERSONAL SOURCE: Picked up at college during World Book Day
RATING: 2.5/5

Catherine Sorgeiul has been living at her uncle’s house for a while now, in Spitalfields. She has dark secrets she’s trying to get over, but when a serial killer – known as the Man of Crows – begins to commit horrific murders near where she lives, Catherine’s fragile mind is turned to the horrors to keep her from herself. But no one is who they seems in Spitalfields, so how can Catherine know who to trust?

When I picked it up, I hoped for a good, historical fiction/mystery. I guess I kind of got that, but there were so many problems I gave it 2.5/5 (I rounded it up because the historical accuracy was pretty awesome).

Let’s start with the good things. It was a mystery – both the actual murders, and Catheirne Sorgeiul herself. Most of the characters were mysteries too, and most didn’t reveal all of their sides. The narrator was unreliable, which made for an interesting read, too.

Onto the actual narrator. The primary narrator was Catherine in first person, but sometimes it flicked to third person so the audience was ahead of the character, and then sometimes it also flicked to another first person narration of Grace Starling. But if we stick to Catherine, well, I actually liked and felt sorry for her. The ending of it was justified for her character, I felt, and I was pleased at how it ended. I also liked the subtle diversity the author dropped in – it was never out-rightly said, but kind of obvious that Catherine was in love with her maid, Grace, although I wouldn’t say she was a lesbian (some later scenes make this clear, but I’m not going to go into that because spoilers!).

The actual story wasn’t bad, but I felt it was concluded a little too rapidly, although any longer than the perfect amount would have been too long. Aka, it took one chapter for it to be wrapped up, the mystery being picked away at the edges (Catherine doesn’t have unusually high intelligence, nor is she a detective, so I felt it was revealed at the right speed). A note on the repercussions would have been nice, and we kind of got it in the final couple of chapters. I actually quite liked the actual murder story, but there was also a few too many subplots going on, with too many characters, which made it difficult to keep track of. I did like, however, that it was just a stand-alone book, a series would have been too much (although, I wouldn’t mind a non-mystery story of what happened next…).

Although I’ve just said I liked the story, I did mention the subplots, and I felt like there were far too many and they dragged on for far too long for them to be affective. Additionally, as aforementioned, Catherine has a “fragile” mind, but I felt like the characters just blatantly lied to her, which then, of course, made it worse afterwards! Needless to say, aside from Catherine, I liked one other character. One. Out of the whole book. Some of the characters were plain horrible, like her uncle, and I felt like the “thing” that happened in her past which gave her the fragile mind was dealt with too harshly, and I really didn’t like that part – it just seemed to be unnecessary violence and hardship, which wasn’t needed and therefore shouldn’t have been in.

Now, onto what brought down at least one whole star for me: the writing. It was just written so badly. The entire thing was full of typos_ and somme of the names were spelt wrong in later chapters. . Aka, in that previous sentence, all of the mistakes were ones that happened in the actual book. Yes, really. I’m surprised that the author didn’t spot them, but surely the editor/publisher/beta-readers? Yes? Apparently not. Some of the writing was also really confusing at points, and I had to read it over and over to fully understand it, which isn’t something you want in a book, especially historical fiction where the reader is thrown into an unknown world anyway! And the spelling of one character’s name changed later in the book! What was that about?!

Overall, I didn’t particularly like this book. I gave it three instead of two stars because I liked the historical accuracy. The author is clearly a well-established historian, and I’m going to be kind of harsh and say maybe she should stay that way. The back of the book – listing her achievements – says she is a “stunning new voice”. I probably wouldn’t say so. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all bad. I think if it had been written better, then I would’ve viewed it more highly, but to be perfectly honest I was surprised it was published. HOWEVER, the characterisation was a strong point, and I did like Catherine and wanted to find out more about her life “after”.

PS – this book was surprisingly sexual, and I wouldn’t recommend it for younger readers. (That and the psychological aspect, as well as the violence, obviously.)

PPS – the title didn’t come into it at all, and I’m still confused over why it was named that. Should’ve been The Pleasures of Women if anything!


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