The Pleasures of Men takes place in 1840 in an England rocked by recession. The social classes, the rich and the devastated poor, are at odds with one another. While the poor are working in factories, selling wares, prostituting, and relishing the occasional meat pie (with rather unsavory ingredients), the rich are going on about their business much the way they always have.
Added to this societal pressure is the appearance of a serial murderer dubbed “The Man of Crows”. He begins killing young women in the city and the whole populace is terrified.
Catherine Sorgeiul is a 19 year old woman, living with her uncle. She becomes fascinated with the murders and begins writing about them. Catherine, a rather odd girl, instinctively knows that these writings are not to be shared with her uncle, whose late night visits with a man named Mr. Trelawny, have Catherine perplexed.
Catherine is a very difficult character to decipher. How does she know so much about the murders? What exactly is her relationship with her uncle? Is the story she has been told about her parents’ deaths true? And the questions that most perplexed me as I was reading—Is she sane? Is she a reliable narrator? The answers to each of these questions unfolded throughout the book. I found it quite enjoyable to read a novel that had me so perplexed.
The narrative arc of The Pleasures of Men is quite complex. There are many narrators and they are not always identified by name. The timeline is not sequential at all—there are flashbacks and shifts back to the primary storyline. This is a novel that requires the reader’s attention and focus. The descriptive details are well done, and the gritty elements of the lives of the poor were gutwrenching. The identity of the killer is not too difficult to figure out, but there are some surprises thrown in as well.
Overall, The Pleasures of Men was an entertaining, if not an unnerving read. I can’t help but think that some of the jumping around in perspectives and the shifting timeline made the book a little darker than it would have been otherwise—and maybe that was the point. I can’t say that I loved the book, but I can say that it was an affecting work of historical fiction.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina