This has to be one of the most charming books I’ve read in the last year! It is a love story, but it is one with a difference. It starts in the early 1900’s when so many unwanted babies are abondoned at the doors of orphanges. Marie and Joseph are two such babies.
The orphange is a harsh place, full of cold, hunger, hard work and beatings. Yet Marie and Joseph, now known as Rose and Perriot, grow in their innocence and bring joy to the orphanage with music and dance. There is something about both of them, an unexpected grace in a world full of ugliness that captures the hearts of everyone who sees them.
Their blossoming love is torn in half when Perriot is sent away to become a gentlemans companion and Rose is sent away to be a governess.
We follow their lives through the roaring twenties, Rose ends up as a gangsters moll, hiring chorus girls and circus acts whilst Perriot floats into drug addiction supported by his prostitute girlfriend. When they meet again their love has not withered and neither has their dream of creating their own unique circus.
But as I mentioned earlier this isn’t your average love story. And although it is wondrously charming it isn’t just light, fluffy, feel good fodder although it would be easy to underestimate it as such. So let me just tell you this book made the long list for the Bailey’s prize!
Instead this is a real oyster of a book, taking all the grit of the world and layering wit and wisdom down over and over again until it’s created a pearl to rival La Peregrina.
I quickly realised that this book is sharply feminist, the quote just here stopped me in my tracks and as you can see inspired me to make a meme of it, something I’m not frequently inspired quite enough to do (this book actually inspired me to make 3!)
But it isn’t just feminist, it also faces down poverty, inequality and child abuse too. Not bad for a book about a couple of orphans who fall in love and want to start their own circus! There is also a section of the book which has a parade of clown acts, each one a penumbral view of human truth that we so often close our eyes to.
O’Neill is a queen of imagery, I’ll never be able to looked at red carnations the same way after this sentence …
There are many others just as strong too, and I have to admit that her descriptive powers, combined of course with the storyline, put me in mind of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. So if you liked that, I reckon you’ll like this too.
I have to give this feast of a book 5 Bites, don’t miss this one!
NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews