BWW Review: THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET by Natasha Pulley
THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET by Natasha Pulley is very different from a lot of other books out. It contains magical realism. It uses alternative history to weave Victorian England in the late 1800s with political upheaval occurring in Japan during the same period. It has really cool clockwork gadgets such as a "living" pet octopus named Katsu. The book jumps back and forth in time in a way that is most intriguing, especially when you find out that one character interprets time and memory differently from everyone else--and that's all I can say on that front without spoilers.
The book centers around Nathaniel Steepleton, a telegrapher whose life turns upside down when someone breaks into his apartment not to steal anything, but to leave a present: an expensive watch. For the longest time, the watch doesn't work and is a curiosity. However, one day, it starts moving like never before, and it becomes an alarm that saves Thaniel's life right before Scotland Yard is bombed. His colleague wonders if he may have had something to do with the bombing since he was warned. When it's discovered that the watch was a "gift" and they find out the watchmaker is Keita Mori, who lives on Filigree Street, a dangerous game begins. Thaniel rents the watchmaker's spare room in order to keep an eye on him as the police try to prove that he made the bomb, which came from pieces of his clockwork. But he can't help becoming friends with the eccentric man, who changes his perception of life in more ways than one.
This is one of those slow-moving novels that unfurl slowly, tick by tick, giving out information that intrigues readers and propels them to keep reading. Once all the mystery begins integrating itself into the story, it really takes flight. The storyline mixes between three different groups of characters whose lives come to intersect in ways that will fundamentally change them.
Two of the most fascinating elements for me were the living clocking beings and the sense of synesthesia occasionally experienced by Thaniel. For one thing, the clockwork! Katsu the Octopus is definitely the standout here. Made with random gears so that its decisions aren't pre-determined, Katsu loves to steal socks and turn up in the most unusual places around the house! A lot of people who encounter him are creeped out because he seems so real--and seriously, a pet octopus?? But he's so clever and intriguing. Katsu was definitely a scene-stealer for me! There are also other clockwork creations such as fairies in the backyard for the neighborhood kids to keep them out of trouble, and the sense of wonder and possibilities that came from all this creative clockwork always kept me on my toes to see more. I also love the fact that Thaniel experiences synesthesia and is able to see color when he listens to music or walks down a stairwell or listens to the click of a telegraph. Sentences such as "Today the silence had a silver hem" or "[The painting is] clever, it looks like busy Mozart...Fast strings." keep readers aware of Thaniel's unique way of the world and add to the intrigue of his character. I really liked all of these asides because it isn't often we see characters dealing with synesthesia, and a lot of people don't know the condition exists.
THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET is hard to talk about without divulging too many of its secrets, but it's an interesting read that's very different from a lot of its shelfmates. Natasha Pulley's sophomore novel, THE BEDLAM STACKS came out earlier this week, and while the two books are not connected, characters from WATCHMAKER do make a cameo appearance! THE BEDLAM STACKS has been getting a lot of great early buzz and is actually the reason I heard about Pulley and discovered WATCHMAKER in the first place. If you're a fan of magical realism and alternative spins on history, Pulley is an author to watch.
THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET was published on July 14, 2015 by Bloomsbury USA.