You can't judge a book by its cover but I still love it when publicists go all out to make the books that they're promoting really stand out from the crowd. Such was the case when this (fake) newspaper-wrapped copy of Lucy Ribchester's The Hourglass Factory popped through my letterbox.
The novel is set in 1912 in London, a rather dangerous and intimidating place, with suffragettes creating havoc in their fight to obtain the vote for women. Frankie George isn't a suffragette, but she still raises many an eyebrow because she chooses to wear trousers and comes across as a bit of a tomboy - she's an ambitious young reporter who wants to cover real news rather than the frothy women's interest stories she is usually given.
When she gets the chance to interview Ebony Diamond, trapeze artist extraordinaire, she doesn't expect much ground-breaking journalism to be involved, but she soons finds herself thrown into a mysterious and macabre adventure involving circus tigers, fetishists and a corset shop, amongst other things. Someone is out to get Ebony Diamond, but is it because she's a suffragette or something more personal?
The novel could almost be described as a work of historical fiction as it plunges you into the heart of Victorian London, effectively recreating the atmosphere of a city in uproar. It is interesting to see the mentality of the times, particularly in terms of women's place in society, but also the attitudes to circus freaks and the sordid secrets that are kept behind closed doors, away from the veneer of social respectability that is presented to the outside world.
The story is engaging and original, but I did feel that the characters were slightly underdeveloped. Whether central characters or random strangers met in the streets, they came across as rather one-sided and I think they had a lot more that could have been exploited to create some truly unforgettable characters.
2015 will be the year of ther suffragette with a major motion picture set in London and starring Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan coming to the screens in January. The Hourglass Factory will be bang on trend and give readers another chance to soak up the atmosphere of this pivotal time.
star rating : 4/5
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
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