I finished reading The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley last night. It is an excellent Victorian based magical realist/clockpunk tale that touches on the Fenian bombing campagin of the 1880s, LGBT themes and challenging gender norms.
What really intrested me, however, was the use of Japan and the Japanese in the story. In western socities we tend to focus on the Euro-American history of the 19th Century, which is a shame as the end of the Edo period and begining of the Meji of the country are fascinating with the transition from a medieval feudal society to a modern one. Pulley symbolizes this period of change with flashbacks to the buying of a Samurai castle by the state, represented by future prime minster Ito Hirobumi.
|Ito Hirobumi (photo from wikipedia)|
Another plot thread involves the reserach undertaken by Gilbert and Sullivan (who both appear as characters) for their 1885 opera The Mikado.
|Gilbert and Sullivan (Photo from http://arts.louisiana.edu)|
This leads the reader into a world that I was totally unaware of: the mock Japanese Village bulit in London for an exhibition of the culture of the country in the 1880s. In fact, because of my lack of knowelge of the exhibition, when it was first encountred in the novel I belived that the characters had been magically transported to Japan.
I don't want to get too much into the plot as I believe this is a novel that needs to be read without too many spoilers. But I do believe that beneath it's magical realism and clockwork octopuses lies an excellent introduction to Japan and the Japanese in the 19th Century. It works on both levels, however, and comes with a strong recomendation from me.