Book name: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Author: Natasha Pulley
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Format: Print, ebook, audiobook
Publication Date: 2015
Star Rating: 4/5
I was interested in The Watchmaker of Filigree Street when I ran across it in one of our local secondhand bookshops, at first glance because of the inventive book cover.
The little image of a stylised octopus, the gruesome day-glo green font against a dark grey and black background and the little cut out through to a second cover behind.
This featured a map of Victorian London and a drawing of a man's pocket watch, all arrested my attention. It was an amazing book cover and very clever.
Natasha Pulley read English at Oxford, went to Japan to study further via a scholarship from the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation.
She then studied the Creative Writing MA at UEA. That's one of the best-regarded Creative Writing MAs in the UK.
The novel is set in London, opening in November 1883. Thaniel Steepleton is a telegraph operator at the Home Office. A warning is received of a bomb attack by Fenians six months from the date of the message.
The action then jumps forward to May 1884 and moves to Oxford. Grace Carrow is studying for her degree and has made friends with Akira Matsumoto from Japan, who is also studying there.
Back in London, Thaniel prepares for the threat of bomb attacks on his workplace to become an imminent reality by making sure that all his affairs in order in case the worst happens.
One of the few things of value he has to leave his sister is his watch, made by K Mori of Filigree Street, Knightsbridge: the watchmaker of the book's title.
As the threat of the bombs exploding in the seat of government increases, the three come together to solve the mystery of who has planted them and to prevent the explosions from taking place.
The premise of the novel is well set up. Grace and Akira become linked to the Japanese watchmaker Mori, and Thaniel's reason for getting to know Mori is also well thought out.
The characterisation was strong. Grace struggles against the expectations for Victorian women and even more so with the legal restrictions on women of the time.
They were prevented from dealing with their own affairs, control of which passed directly from father or brother to husband if the woman married. This made her likeable and sympathetic. She merely wanted something that many women are able to take for granted today.
The book also threw a thoughtful spotlight on how many women around the world still have their lives controlled by male relatives in this way. I liked Thaniel, with his genuine and courageous desire to prevent the terrorist attack on London, very much indeed. He was my favourite character.
This novel was slightly difficult to categorise, but none the worse for that. Not every book fits into convenient labels, after all. It was really historical fiction, and there was some romance centring around Grace, but the core of the book was the terror plot to bomb London. Yet the writing style was 'light literary' rather than pure action thriller.
It's often said 'Write what you know', and Pulley has taken the things she is most knowledgeable about (Victorian life and literature, Japanese culture and society) and fused them into a coherent tale. The distance in time meant that it was far less of a personal story than many debut novels, but the strong action-based plot and excellent understanding of the times more than made up for that. Plus who can say what part of an author's identity seeps into their fiction without the reader realising as much?
Thank you for reading my review.
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