#bookreview A girl made of air by Nydia Hetherington published by Quercus Books in September 2020

Amazon:

This is the story of The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived…

Born into a post-war circus family, our nameless star was unwanted and forgotten, abandoned in the shadows of the big top. Until the bright light of Serendipity Wilson threw her into focus. 

Now an adult, haunted by an incident in which a child was lost from the circus, our narrator, a tightrope artiste, weaves together her spellbinding tales of circus legends, earthy magic and folklore, all in the hope of finding the child… But will her story be enough to bring the pair together again?

My reading experience:

Firstly I would like to thank the author, publisher and Netgalley for my free ARC.

The big top is at the centre of everything. A colossus, dwarfing our meagre dwellings, it’s always at the forefront of the encampment, facing the nearest road, surrounded by bunting and flags: yellow and red triangles that beat out time in the wind, and Union Jacks waving a friendly hello. In all probability we’re somewhere in the north of England, but we could be anywhere.”

The story begins with an interview. A star struck journalist is talking to The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived. The telling of small snippets of her life unlocks something in our enchanting, complex, ragamuffin of a retired circus star, and she embarks on a letter to the journalist – a transcription of her childhood journals. The reader is teased with the unraveling of emotions about a mermaid mother and a lost baby Bunny. Who was Bunny? Who did she belong to? Where did she go? What happened to Serendipity Wilson, the magical red haired fae mother figure of the Funambulists’ childhood?

This story has overwhelmed me with feelings. I was literally unable to put this book down – every time I tried, it called to me with its circus encampment sounds and smells, the gawdy glamour of the artistes, the big top and painted wagons. The journey was compelling – from the worn out English circus to the decaying Coney Island.

Conversational prose make the story flow easily pollenating the characters’ growth and the colours came alive – the vivid touch, strength and challenges for a Funambulist made spectacular by the auditory description of the applause, and the buzzing of the iron that provides the backdrop to her true rise to fame. The story is spellbinding ~ by her own admission the Funambulists’ memories elaborate and almost lore-ish. The reader is only certain that none of it is certain.

Everyone is the star of their own show, performing for the passing, faceless crowds. We are all clowns.”

This story has two faces – the one with sparkling greasepaint, and the other red raw after the makeup is scrubbed away. Before I had finished the book I had pre-ordered the hard copy because there is nothing quite like the seduction of the physical book. This story will make you look harder. I highly recommend.

We travel along the thread of narrative like high-wire artistes. That is our life’ ~ Angela Carter

Themes: Circus, circus acts, Funambulism, stardom, abandonment, childhood, trauma, friendship, trust, love, applause, missing people, loneliness, Holocaust, Coney Island, fame

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