The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley, (Bloomsbury USA), 336 pages, release date 14 July, 2015
I’m assuming all of us have had those nights when we’ve stayed up later than we should to finish a book. I found myself doing that with The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. Not only did I stay up to read it, but the book kept me up several hours after I’d finished. I found myself absolutely floored by this novel and was left with a sort of reader’s endorphin rush that made sleeping impossible.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is one of those books that can make you weepy with joy simply because you’re literate and able to read it. It’s not the plot; it’s not the characters; it’s not the prose—it’s the crazy, amazing wonderfulness that Pulley has created by rendering each of these elements perfectly.
Despite having begun with all those superlatives, I don’t want to say too much about this book. Trust me: you’ll want to come to this one as a sort of reading tabula rasa, with each moment of the book coming to you fresh and sweeping you along with it.
Here are a few things I can say without giving too much away in hopes of getting you to march over to your local independent bookstore to pick up a copy the day it’s released.
• Setting: this novel takes place in 1880s London, Oxford, and Japan. I’ve read several novels already this year that take place, all or in part, in Japan during this time, but none of those novels gives that setting the detail and believability that The Watchmaker of Filigree Street offers.
• Characters: Pulley renders her characters in wonderful detail—even the more marginal characters. Reading The Watchmaker of Filigree Street you’ll meet a telegraphist for the Home Office who receives a mysterious birthday package; a young woman studying physics at Oxford, who cross dresses in order to have access to the libraries without a male escort; her best friend, a wealthy young man from Japan who charms everyone he meets; and, of course, the watchmaker himself, who has managed to extricate himself from a diplomatic career in Japan in order to make watches and other clockwork devices in London.
• Magic: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street employs a sort of steam punk magical realism, but keeps this carefully grounded in the details of ordinary life at the time. I can’t go into more detail here without giving away key aspects of the book, but trust me, you’ll find yourself straddling cultures and realities in wonderful ways.
Seriously: Just. Go. Buy. This. Book. Buy it, read it, and see how long it keeps you up at night grinning like a fool because you’ve become drunk on the pleasures of exceptional writing.