A book that intends to balance on the fine wire of the exploitative-freak-show trope in order to render a point about...


Born into a family of circus acrobats, Olympia Knife is unique in more ways than one. As she struggles to control her tendency toward literal invisibility, she must also navigate her burgeoning love for the newest star of the circus: Diamond the Danger Eater.

Constantine’s (Sweet, 2016) second novel opens with the midact, midair disappearance of Alban and Julia, the Flying Knifes, as their young daughter watches from the trapeze platform. Olympia has been raised in the tightknit nucleus of the Stephens Great Attraction traveling circus, where her sporadic transparency blends in with the unique gifts of the fabulous Minnie the Fat Lady, Madame Barbue the Bearded Woman, Robin the Rubber Boy, and many others. As the book progresses, she is forced to confront the impermanence of even the closest of these relationships as, one by one, the members of her circus family begin to vanish into the ether. At the same time, Olympia finds herself falling in love with a mysterious newcomer—Diamond, who performs a dashing sword-swallowing act—and transforming her own identity into that of Nova the Half Man. As she struggles to navigate her unfamiliar emotions, her fluctuating visibility, and the unravelling of her livelihood when the circus grinds to a denuded halt, Olympia must thrust herself into the forefront of her life in order to preserve her own place within it. Though there is a tremendous amount happening in this novel, the similarity in the back stories of the characters, as well as a tendency to narrate even the most climactic of injuries, consummations, and murders in the same expository tone, renders the book hazy. The powerful central theme is similarly blurred by inconsistencies in the main characters' development (Olympia is both mousy and bold, Diamond both daring and prone to collapse in indecisive tears) and plot progression issues that find characters spending entire chapters rising from bed only to sink back into the same bed, exhausted, without much happening in between.

A book that intends to balance on the fine wire of the exploitative-freak-show trope in order to render a point about inclusion and identity but succeeds instead in crafting a series of more-or-less familiar freak-show character sketches.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-945053-27-6

Page Count: 204

Publisher: Interlude Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.


Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

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