Wednesday, 18 February 2015
The Hourglass Factory by Lucy Ribchester
[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’…
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.