The glitter and filth of carnival and circus are played alongside the enchantment and duplicity of magic in this selection.
Remove yourself from your daily routine and dive into the spectacle and beauty of these books.
Church of Marvels by Leslie Parry
Odile Church and her beautiful sister, Belle, were raised amid the applause and magical pageantry of The Church of Marvels, their mother’s spectacular Coney Island sideshow. But the Church has burnt to the ground, their mother dead in its ashes. Now Belle, the family’s star, has vanished into the bowels of Manhattan, leaving Odile alone and desperate to find her.*
Set in 1895 New York City and Coney Island, the story of how the lives of strangers crash into each other, and scatter their futures on the breeze. Formed by their own experiences and origins, the lives of Sylvan, Alphie, Odile and Isabelle are irrevocably connected. This is a wonderful tale by Parry, evoking both the filth and the glitter of carnivals and theatre, and the fug and fantasy of opium dens in the 19th century.
This is an easy book to read – from the opening intriguing prose to the epilogue, never a moment that didn’t spark my interest. Well written, beautiful descriptions, that immerse you in the scene; “The night before the fire there had been a gypsy party on the beach. It seemed like a dream: torches lit along the shore, plumed horses trotting through the sand, androgynes in fake silks flying high up on swings Odile had walked around barefoot with bells chiming from her ankle, eating a cinnamon doughnut and watching bats swoop across the sky”.
Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle.*
This is a beautiful book, conjuring images of carnival, carnivalesque, the incredible and the vanity of mankind. Fact and fantasy, heaven and hell, Hoffman manages to bring to life the comradeship of the life of ‘freaks’ in a sideshow or museum, and the ‘otherness’ that such an awkward lifestyle can bring. It is the wondrous tale of Coralie – of endurance as a dutiful daughter, the discovery of love, of kindness, but also of the true horrors of mankind.
Hoffman brings magic to spectacle.
The paperback edition has an alluring cover, dazzling and bewitching. A lot of the prose are printed in italics which are often difficult to read, but please persist.
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Orphaned, penniless, Jacob Jankowski jumps a freight train in the dark, and in that instant, transforms his future.*
The tale of try, try and try again. You will succeed. But it won’t always be easy, and there will be an uphill struggle. Sara Gruen has the ability to describe the circus and the people in such a way as to evoke the smells and laughter of the carnival. The story begins with an old man who cannot believe his own family have given up on him, after all he feels he has done for them. The beauty here, is that we get to delve into his life, and tag along on the journey which is both enchanting and marvellous.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.*
Well written, completely absorbing, fascinating, wildly imaginative and creative. I couldn’t put this book down, nor did I want it to ever end…
The Night Circus is the story of game. But this is no ordinary game…there are no rules, the competitors do not know each other, and the loser has everything to lose. This is a game between two very old (crossing centuries) illusionists. This is real magic. And the illusionists, real prestidigitators. One was the master, the other the student. An age old tale of the student transcending his master, and then pitting their methods against each other by using other students to out perform each other.
The chosen students have a very unusual set of skills, and grow up aware of their forthcoming game. They do not know however, when it will begin, where it will take place, or who their opponent will be. Trained and instructed for all of their formative years, the game is their life.
The book is wholly credible. That is its biggest triumph. It is a journey, a coming of age, of belief, of charms and enchantment, of surpassing ones own imagination.
“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world”.
~ Oscar Wilde 1888
*Brief synopsis or teaser from goodreads.com