The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
The audiobook version of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is lovely to hear. It’s not a face-paced story, but there are layers of meaning and feeling that will stay with you for a while.
Publisher’s Description: 1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a sweeping, atmospheric narrative that takes the reader on an unexpected journey through Victorian London, Japan as its civil war crumbles long-standing traditions, and beyond. Blending historical events with dazzling flights of fancy, it opens doors to a strange and magical past.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
I did. There’s a lot to think about. The narrator was phenomenal, with the different British accents and Japanese-British accents. I thought he did a great job. I was so engrossed, I was all “Oh, I’m gonna go upstairs, and, like, clean,” and then I’d just lay on the bed listening to the book.
I loved that so much of it was accurate history. The Irish bombings in London actually took place, and “Dolly” Williamson actually got a note that said he’d get blown off his stool. Or so the story goes, anyway.
I was wondering about, not the British history, but the Japanese, with emperor and the rebellion, and the coup, and then taking over the feudal homes of the samurai. I was all ‘wow, I don’t know anything about Britain’s involvement in the opening of Japan to the West.” This is fascinating.
If you look at the story from a historical point of view, you have this huge time of political and social unrest; which is a good way to talk about the diversity issues of today, because we have tons of diversity going on here.
Yes! I thought it was neat that Grace’s character was doing the physics stuff. She’s like the lady from the Imitation Game who was helping break the codes for the submarine operations That couldn’t have happened if that woman hadn’t been recognised by one man and if he hadn’t snuck her in under the radar. I thought it was a nice touch how Thanial said she could publish her research under his name or else it might not be accepted. It would at least get the information out there so the world of physics would be better for it. I thought that’s a nice touch, even though–why should a woman have to have a man to do for her, but that was the time period.
It really played into how her character turned out, and the things that she did to protect what she believed was important to her. In a society that wasn’t going to let her do or be what she thought was important because she wasn’t a man… she got desperate. I thought that was the piece that was talking about diversity, even more so than the same-sex relationship. That was the part that was talking about freedom and tolerance and diversity, that we all need to be free to be able to follow the things and make the choices that fit with who we think we are. If not, this is what happens to people. They become small, and they become petty, and they become desperate.
I think this book is great; I really enjoyed it. There are places where you have to think about what the author’s doing and why she’s doing it, but if I still owned a bookstore, I would hand-sell this book, big-time. I would put it in people’s hands, both the book itself and the narration. So, is this a 4 or a 5?
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street is a wonderful love story, period piece, historical crime novel…actually, it’s hard to define. It’s beautifully written and is wonderfully narrated. I listened to this novel over the course of a couple weeks and found, at one point, I couldn’t turn it off.
The first character the readers are introduced to is ‘Thaniel. He is a British Telegraph operator, well; maybe he’s a pianist who longs to play beautiful music. There is Grace, an upper class lady attending Oxford who will marry well and maintain the family lineage, well; maybe she’s a world class physicist about to make a discovery that revolutionizes science. Then there is Mori, a Japanese native living in London who makes the most amazing watches and other mechanical devices AND he’s a clairvoyant. When these three lives get woven together they change in dramatic ways.
This novel has so many layers and not all is as it appears on the surface. It will appeal to a broad audience, particularly to book groups who like lively discussions. As I listened to this novel, I found myself wondering about Japan and Britain’s early diplomatic relations. I wondered about the role women had in scientific research at the turn of the 20th Century. I also wondered about the Suffrage movement and the struggles for Irish Independence. The author, Natasha Pulley, obviously did her research and the novel is better for it. If only History were taught like this in school.
The narrator did an especially good job with the nuances of the various accents. Londoner’s have their own set of accents, but Thomas Judd, the narrator, even captured the differences of the Japanese speakers who all had their own specific accents. I highly recommend this book and give it a 4.
There is so much going on in this book that it’s hard to isolate just a few things I liked. I’ll talk about a couple here, but there are so many great parts in this book.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street sets a touching love story against a historic time of social and political unrest — Irish terrorists are bombing London in protest of British rule; women in England and other parts of the world are dissatisfied with their inability to vote and restricted independence; and Japan’s feudal and agrarian society is fighting a losing battle against the influence of Western culture and technology. After doing a little web surfing, I discovered that a lot of the history relayed in the book is accurate, including the bombings that are central to the story. I find historical fiction much more impressive when it can deliver a mostly-accurate history lesson at the same time it’s entertaining.
Another part of this story I appreciated was the subtle descriptions of what true love really looks like. In one part of the story, Mori encourages Thaniel, who has synesthesia, to draw and paint when he sees when he listens to music. Mori insists on hanging the drawings on the wall, even though Thaniel believes they are worthless. Mori describes Thaniel’s drawings as much more interesting than the paintings he just bought by that depressed Dutchmen (referring to, I’m assuming, Van Gogh).
In another part of the book, when Mori visits Grace and Thaniel’s new home, he is obviously unhappy that the music room is unfinished and there is no piano, though Grace’s laboratory in the basement is completely finished. Later, the reader learns that Mori sees Thaniel as a pianist while Grace sees him as an ordinary man who occasionally plays the piano. This makes a difference to Thaniel and affects his future choices. These are subtle parts of the story, but they say quite a lot about the relationships between the characters.
The narrator, Thomas Judd, did a great job with the voices. As I was listening, I didn’t think there was a lot of obvious variations in voice; but in hindsight, I never had any trouble distinguishing between characters. In particular, Thaniel’s, Mori’s, and Grace’s voices were perfect for their characters.
There is also the sock-stealing clockwork octopus, the cheeky workhouse orphan, the way clairvoyance is imagined, the wide range of diversity in the story, and the scientific cleverness displayed at the end. I can’t say more without giving too much away, but you’ll know what I mean when you read it. 🙂
This is just a fraction of what is so fascinating about The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. There are layers and layers of personal and social commentary in this book that, though presented in a historical setting, are so appropriate for today’s culture.
Really there isn’t much about this story I didn’t like. I only want to note that it is a slow, quiet story. For some people, slow and quiet stories can be hard to read and even harder to hear. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed this story, I found my attention wandering at times. But if you like the slow and quiet story, then give this book a try. It’s pretty impressive.
If you like this book…
The style of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street really reminded me of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. It’s also been compared to the Sherlock Holmes novels in other reviews. You might also try Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, the Strangely Beautiful series by Leanna Renee Hieber, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.