It took me two years from wanting to read this book, to actually getting it and finally finishing it. I do not know why because I quite enjoyed this thriller set in Victorian times and I am glad I did not go with the rather displeasing reviews that stated it was not something spectacular... It proves that there is no account for taste and reading should be about what YOU choose to read and then like or dislike and not other people's opinion... which is not your own if you do not read the actual book.
"The Pleasures of Men" is a captivating book, quite disturbing in certain aspects, but not too disturbing to put it down. It was written in 2012 and it is Kate Williams' first book of fiction about a young girl obsessed with a serial killer in 1840 London. Williams is a historian who first published biographies on Queen Victoria or Napoleon's Josephine and this novel clearly shows her talent on telling a story while writing historical fiction.
"The footstep comes once more, and then there is a breath. Walking forward, she tells herself that there is nothing. So many times has she thought a man was too near behind when he was simply close for no reason. She hears a cough and a clack of fine-sounding heels and her chest tightens. She moves more quickly. So does he. God help me."
Catherine lives in Spitalfields together with her dubious uncle and this Gothic story tells us why little by little. She seems tormented by the fact that years ago she chose to let her little brother be taken by some strangers and she is aware this changed her for the worst. She is attracted to what is dark around her, she does not like the company of others and she tortures herself in trying to find the serial killer who hunts young girls in the scary parts of London. Is she going mad because of her past and her mother who had mental problems or the serial killer is about to get her?
She does live in a perverse world, but has she contributed to this with her own nature, or the male dominated society has taken its toll on her? We have the cries at night, the fog and the candlelight, the plotting of almost every character in the book, the bumps in the dark but luckily, we do not have the feeling that this may be a work of fiction, too melodramatic for an ordinary taste. The book often gave me the feeling that I myself was in the story, watching Catherine spying on whoever the killer was... fantasizing about his reasons to kill and his next move.
"That night, he thinks: I must discover the next one. It is exciting, his task, and daunting. The responsibility of finding. Into the streets the next day and searching for her. He understands that he must not be too ambitious, he must not expect to find her immediately. There are many girls in the city, after all."
I loved the fact that we cannot predict what would happen to Catherine and how the story would end until the last pages. Also, the way Williams renders the character's thoughts for pages on end and makes them so interesting you cannot get bored proves her excellent talent as a writer.