Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester



published 2015

Hourglass factory 2

[1912: The Royal Albert Hall, London]
Ebony Diamond had waited in the dark, her wrists bound tight as shoelaces. Her fingers had numbed to blue; the pearls of sweat on her palms were turning the mixture of flour and poudre d’amour to paste. Behind her, Annie Evans was busy… [and singing] gently ‘The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze’, singing ‘lass’ instead of ‘man’…


The Lumley Wood Mystery ... Illustrated by J. B. Partridge


Ebony checked the binding on her legs, squeezed a handful of flesh into a more comfortable position, ran a thumb over the sailor’s knots she had tied, and wedged the wooden bar of the trapeze between the hollows of her feet. Annie passed her the banner and she bit its silk,and grimaced as its slippery perfume coated her teeth. She had done higher leaps than this and she had felt sick before each of them too…. She gave Annie a last look, climbed alone onto the wooden lip of the hole. And she jumped.
 


observations: Ebony Diamond is a professional trapeze artiste, but this time she is using her skills to make a protest on behalf of the suffragette cause. After this scene – the opening of the book – she makes only a few shadowy appearances before disappearing, and her fate is left uncertain for most of The Hourglass Factory.

Lucy Ribchester’s book is overflowing with activity, ideas, plot and historical details. She is looking at the suffragette struggle in great detail, but has also added a mystery, a thriller plot, and a journey through the London underworld. Frankie George, a slightly annoying heroine, dresses in men’s clothes and is trying to make it as a journalist. She senses that there is a big story behind what is happening to Ebony, and she pursues the case, helped along by various friends. Meanwhile we are also following police investigations into suffragette activity, and into several deaths.

The scenes change rapidly: Frankie’s digs, a Fleet St office, a corset shop, the mortuary, a very louche club, backstage at a theatre. All are very well-described, conjuring up complete pictures.

There is a lot about corsets – so much so that there’ll be another entry on that subject – and everyone’s clothes are fully described, something I am always glad to see. The sections on the suffragettes were very informative, and the backstage scenes seemed authentic. There was a hint of Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, and Ebony reminded me of Fevvers from that book.

Someone who gets bashed on the head is described as having ‘a boiled egg’ [ie a round bump] the next day – I hadn’t seen this phrase used in years, and it used to mystify me.

The top picture is from a book on circuses.

The other picture seemed to be good to be true, as two of the main themes of the book are trapezes and corsets. It came from Flickr, from an early mystery book, though it seems to have been an advert printed in the book, rather than part of the text.










12 comments:

  1. Would you be surprised to find I'm not rushing out to buy a copy? Every blog visit is like a game of cards for me - stick or twist......I'll stick today.

    I ought to try and find a circus or carnival read from the stacks I suppose. My older two went to see the CIRQUE DU SOLEIL a week or two ago......awesome apparently!

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    1. No not surprised, though it's a good strong book. Look forward to your finding something carnivalesque for us though - it's always a theme I like.

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  2. Moira - Oh, that is an interesting context for a story - the circus. And the book itself sounds like an interesting take on the suffragette movement as well as a look at that time. I'll look forward to your post on corsets; I'm sure the book gives some really interesting information about that. But nothing would ever induce me to wear one. I can't imagine how women did...

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    1. They come up a lot, every time I think I've finished with them for a while they come up in another book: and I do find the whole topic really interested....

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  3. so intriguing, and bondage is in... yet this seems infinitely more satisfying than any shade of gray...

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    1. Yes I think it is...but all the discussions around the dreaded book and film are quite interesting. And this book is entertaining and well-written.

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  4. I'm really liking the sound of this book, mystery and the suffragette movement and I do love books that manage to set the scene well, which judging by your review, this one does.

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    1. Yes Cleo, it's a real attempt to create a whole world, which I do respect. And I'm always fascinated by the suffragettes, and she's obviously researched that really well.

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  5. Moira, I have heard of suffrage but not suffragette which, I have now learnt, was unique to the UK in many ways. This book will tell me more about it, I think.

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    1. Thanks Prashant - I wouldn't have known if it was a generally-used phrase or not. It's an interesting part of women's history, and the dates when women got the vote varies enormously from country to country.

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  6. Sounds very interesting, although a bit of a mishmash of many things? Not available yet here, so I can safely sit on the sidelines and wait and see. I do like the cover on the UK edition. (And a Scottish author, which gets it more points.)

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    1. Yes there is a lot in it - I think writers often expend a lot of their ideas in a first novel, instead of spreading them out into several books! I'm sure she could have got a whole series out of the different strands in this one.

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