“All we can do is perform our lives as gloriously as possible.”
This is spellbinding. The entire novel is slightly ethereal – like every good circus trick, your senses create an illusion and it’s never certain what’s truly going on. It weaves its tale slowly, drawing you in like the sight of the tents in the distance. Then you step across the threshold, the lights go out, and the show begins.
The protagonist is Mouse – the greatest funambulist who ever lived. World-renowned, Mouse is now retired and gives one last interview. In the aftermath, she sits down and goes over her diaries, reminiscing over her life. She has a tale to tell, and wants to entertain her audience one last time.
Mouse is fascinating. She goes from a naive, innocent child, navigating the murky world of a circus where she doesn’t know her place, to a precocious child star, to an intelligent young woman with ideas of her own. We spend the entire novel in her head yet in many ways she remains a mystery – probably because she is a mystery to herself. Her relationship with Serendipity Wilson is enthralling and multifaceted. The writing exquisitely captures the love, the hate, the dependence, the worship, and the evolution of feeling throughout Mouse’s life. Similarly, Mouse’s interactions with Manu and Marina were sometimes heartbreaking but always exquisitely rendered.
I was impressed with how Mouse always felt her age. We followed her from childhood right through to her retirement, and each entry felt authentic. The flashbacks to young Mouse felt young – her thoughts and words were immature, her perspective narrow, her emotions all hot or all cold. It was rarely confirmed what age she was as she grew, but it didn’t need to be because the writing conveyed it perfectly. Her words and feelings matured, her perspectives on relationships changed. The little interjections from adult Mouse looking back helped to show how much she’d changed – or not changed.
The writing is this book’s strength. It’s exquisite. It transports you into the world of the circus, into Mouse’s daydreams, into bedtime stories told by Serendipity Wilson. You can almost hear the clicking of knitting needles or the roar of the crowd. It’s a fully immersive experience and it’s glorious – a triumph of literature. The plot is clever and twisty but secondary to the imagery evoked.
It’s always a brave move to compare a book to The Night Circus, but this truly deserves the comparison. Is it the same? No, not at all – the only tangible similarities shared are that both books contain a circus, and both books are driven by imagery over plot. But they both create a whimsical, almost fairytale atmosphere, casting a spell with words to take the reader someplace else. Those who liked The Night Circus should like this book.
Overall, this is a brilliant book. It won’t appeal to everyone – some might find it slow, or lacking in plot, or generally too filled with whimsy and not enough with substance – but for the dreamers, the believers, the ones who want to be entertained by the whimsical and the fantastic, this is a book for you.
Published by Quercus
Hardback: 3 September 2020