The Hourglass Factory, Lucy Ribchester
Books-recommended-by-Chloe is a regular theme of my reading – she gave me this one at Christmas, too, as well as Warpaint. It’s been sitting on my bedside table ever since, picked up occasionally, read for a bit, then forgot about for a bit because it’s too hefty to carry on my commute. But I took it to Wales with me last week and, having finished Five Quarters of the Orange, I got stuck into it on the train home. Which was lucky, because there was an extremely irritating pair of people across the aisle from me, having an unnecessarily loud conversation about work. For two hours. No thankyou. But I digress.
Lucy Ribchester’s first novel, The Hourglass Factory starts in 1912, and tells of the fight for women’s suffrage from the point of view of a journalist, Frankie George, on the lookout for her first big story. Over a few short days, Frankie gets caught up in the case of a missing trapeze artist, which leads her to a much bigger conspiracy. Packed with characters such as a corset-maker who turns up dead while wearing one of his own corsets, a snake-charming showgirl, Fleet Street journalists, misogynistic policemen, a cruel landlady, and a courtesan, amongst others, the novel teems with life and intrigue that would make for an excellent series of connected books. I was disappointed that more was not made of Frankie’s sexuality – many references were made to it, as though hinting at something to come (I was wondering whether she and Millie would get together), but it trailed off, unexplored. But she reminded me of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart – determined, independent, smart, not always right but trying to be – and that made up for it; I’d like to read more books about her. Though a little long for my liking, the tantalising hints and clues at the mystery were clever and imaginative, without being so obscure as to make it unenjoyable, and it mostly kept its momentum without becoming tedious.
I enjoyed the note at the end (which can also be found on her website) telling us about the real people who inspired some of the characters – with a fictional plot, it made it all the more chilling to learn that some of the more horrific events – such as force-feeding of hunger strikers in prison – were actually much worse than depicted. I liked how real people – such as the Pankhursts – were referenced, woven into the plot but only met occasionally, if at all, and not made into caricatures. A quick look on her website brings this gem: music hall songs (including The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze), and others related to the novel, which gives a pleasing insight to the author’s mind.
All in all, I enjoyed The Hourglass Factory, and I look forward to seeing more of Lucy Ribchester (and perhaps of Frankie) in future.
Other categories that The Hourglass Factory fits into: a book with more than 500 pages, a book published this year, a book by a female author, a book a friend recommended, a book by an author you’ve never read before, a book that takes place in your hometown