Review: Clockwork Man

The Clockwork Man; William Jablonsky

The Clockwork Man is about just that—a man made of clockwork. He was created in the 1800s by Karl Gruber, the clockmaker of his time. While Ernst (the clockwork man) is obviously not human, he functions on his own and the Gruber family treats him like a real person. It’s almost like a steampunk Frankenstein. When tragedy strikes the family, Ernst allows himself to wind down and shut off, but is awakened one hundred years later in an unfamiliar world.

The concept is really cool. I like clocks. I like steampunk. But I wasn’t crazy about the execution. The book reads as Ernst’s diary, which of itself is a good idea, but this means there was a lot of “telling” rather than “showing.” Apparently Ernst and Gruber’s daughter, Giselle, have a sort of “romantic” relationship, but it was difficult to grasp this from Ernst’s point of view. He’s not wired for emotions like that, so we really only see Giselle’s advances toward a mechanical man. It didn’t feel like the big love story it was meant to be.

Just when something begins to happen in the Gruber story, there’s an awful tragedy and Ernst commits his version of suicide—that is, neglecting to wind himself up so that he stops ticking. When he wakes one hundred years later, he’s forced to face his existence and his past. This part of the story really wasn’t interesting.

If his self-reflection lasted only a couple chapters, I could have dealt with it. But the entire second half of the book is Ernst hiding from the public, trying to figure things out, and having weird hallucinations about Giselle. Apparently there’s a great contemplation over what it means to be alive, but I was too distracted by nothing happening that I completely missed it.

It’s disappointing that I didn’t enjoy this more. I don’t think it’s even proper steampunk, despite the category pronounced on the book’s spine.

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