The Clocks in this House All Tell Different Times – Xan Brooks: Review & Recommend | ELLIE LOVES

TW: This book includes child prostitution, drug abuse, violence.

I had no idea what to expect when I picked up The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times. I’d not read anything by Xan Brooks before, and all I knew was that it was about a girl orphaned in WWI, who finds herself in Epping Wood with a group of men injured by the war, known collectively as ‘the Funny Men’, and individually as nicknames from Dorothy’s companions from the Wizard of Oz. Suffice to say, I was not prepared for this book when I picked it up.

Despite being completely taken aback by the contents of this book, I did enjoy it. Quite early on in the book, it is revealed that the children’s trips to Epping Woods are really for sexual purposes — to ‘satisfy the needs’ of the Funny Men who, due to their injuries, feel unable to return to their normal lives after the War. The children initially don’t see this as particularly disturbing, which was incredibly unsettling. As the children grow up a little, though, they start to realise that what happens in Epping Woods is wrong, and some of the men also express regrets. When the trips to Epping Woods are ended abruptly after an incident leads to others discovering the goings-on, two of the children run away to live with the Funny Men, which is where the book really starts to get going.

The characters of the Funny Men were mostly likeable, despite the unforgivable acts they commit. I was conflicted by these characters: they are paedophiles, yet they still remain somewhat sympathetic. Throughout the book, though, Lucy was the character I was really rooting for. Lucy’s friend and companion, Winnifred, or Fred, was much less likeable for me. She was very much the leader of the children, passing harsh judgement on others, and whatever she decided, Lucy seemed to follow. Lucy was a much meeker character, sweeter and more delicate. This book really is heartbreaking, watching events unfold, with Lucy falling deeper and deeper into a depraved society she has no place in, yet not understanding the repercussions of what she’s doing.

Interspersed between Lucy’s story, we have some flashbacks to different secondary characters, including the Funny Men, and a shaman-type character. These were somewhat confusing, though the seemingly unrelated plot lines do come together at the end. I do feel like the book could have done without the shaman-subplot. I hated the character, and while he was responsible for an important aspect of the plot towards the end, it would have been easy to have had him removed entirely, and the incident towards the end of the book could have occurred a different way. He wasn’t an enjoyable character to read at all. Unlikeable, and just annoying! I don’t mind unlikeable characters: I love a well-written villain. But he wasn’t really a villain, just a… pest. Another unusual piece of entertainment for the rich owners of the house that allow the Funny Men to live in an outhouse.

This element of high society was also completely unexpected for me. From the blurb, I expected the majority of the story to be a kind of dark fairytale, taking place in Epping Woods. Really, this was only the first part of the book, with the latter parts becoming a tale of debauchery, drugs, exploitation and high society. This, for me, was where the book really started to get heartbreaking. Until this point, Lucy’s trips into the world of the Funny Men was limited to Sunday nights, and the rest of the time she was able to live a normal life with her grandparents (or as normal a life as you can have when your grandfather is willing to sell you into prostitution as a young teen), but at the point where the girls go to live with the Funny Men they pass a point of no return. This sudden change in the setting of the story worked well for me though. It raised the stakes, and changed the book up a bit. At almost 400 pages, I’m not sure that the setting of Epping Wood would have been enough to sustain the story and keep it interesting. Switching the setting allowed for completely new themes to be introduced, and kept the pacing building to the climax.

The other thing I enjoyed about The Clocks in this House All Tell Different Times was the surrealist aspect. High on drugs all the time, the wealthy estate owner and his family and house guests are unpredictable, dangerous, and bizarre. It often only became clear a few paragraphs on what was really happening on the estate. The ‘game’ towards the end, that triggers the climax of the novel seemed to come out of nowhere, played on the whims of a drug-addled, entitled, unpredictable rich man.

Overall, this book was a great read. It’s unsettling, heartbreaking, confusing, haunting, and fascinating. For me, what let it down a little was the unnecessary subplot with the shaman, and the writing style itself, which didn’t particularly stand out to me.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This review also published on my GoodReads.

15 thoughts on “The Clocks in this House All Tell Different Times – Xan Brooks: Review & Recommend | ELLIE LOVES

  1. Wow, this sounds like a really powerful read. Certainly different to anything I’ve read before and I can imagine how that was a bit of a shock not knowing what you were going into. Shame about the subplot letting it down though. Fantastic review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It was a bit of a shock but fortunately I’m up for reading pretty much anything in terms of themes so it was fine once I adjusted ☺️

      Liked by 1 person

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