Phew, what a rollercoaster. The Hourglass Factory has me feeling completely exhausted!
Set in 1912 London, The Hourglass Factory weaves a conspiracy tale of suffragettes, circus performers and corsetry unlike anything you’ve read before. Frankie George is a female reporter battling against a sexist industry—and when she gets caught up in the enigma of a vanishing suffragette trapeze artist, she can’t help but abandon her weekly ladies’ column for something a little more gritty. What follows are 500 pages of murder, madness and sexual fetishes, as she races the rather hard done by Inspector Primrose to solve the mystery. You’ll recognise historical landmarks—the sinking of the Titanic, the Whitechapel murders, Black Friday—but the rest of Lucy Ribchester’s cracking debut is brand new.
The Hourglass Factory is wonderfully original. It’s got twists and turns you’ll never see coming—and a variety of characters that refuse to belong to stereotypes. I loved how such a sensational story is entwined with real history; even the most outlandish details become wonderfully believable when paired with the most incredible story of all: ours. Reading The Hourglass Factory felt like a whirlwind tour through some of the most shocking moments from the recent past, with the lively backdrop of the circus to save it ever feeling like a history book.
As an aspiring journalist, it was great fun to be thrown into Fleet Street (the centre of journalism in 1912 London)—although totally maddening to see the sexism that a woman like Frankie would have faced. I was more interested in Frankie’s journey than the parallel story of Inspector Primrose, but that’s purely down to my own greater interest in the world of reporting, and the voices of silenced women.
But beneath the dramatics, Ribchester has a clear and progressive moral. It’s best summed up in this wonderful quote from the eccentric former courtesan Twinkle: “It’s never the deviants who are the problem… It’s people who won’t open their minds that are dangerous.”
Unfortunately, this book is just too damn long. A story with this many twists and turns needs to take a faster pace: several times I reached a big revelation having already forgotten the crucial characters, and would have to flip laboriously back through the book to refresh my memory. This wasn’t helped by the two parallel investigations by Frankie and Inspector Primrose: keeping track of who knew what was more than a little headache-inducing.
This is a fantastically original debut that I won’t be forgetting for quite some time. I’ll definitely be looking this author up again in the future—but I’ll be crossing my fingers for a slightly shorter offering next time.
The Hourglass Factory is on sale in the US from today.
*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.