In Matvejs’ novel, a performer with a traveling circus in the Australian Outback tries to keep her family together in the face of intimidating difficulties.
Rose Vitkovskis loves her life in the circus, despite all its hardships: little money, a sleazy boss pressuring her for sex, constant travel through dusty, dying mining towns, bad weather, etc. Mother of five, she also cares for her much older husband, who has dementia, though she’s in love with a married circus clown. It’s all worth it once she gets in the ring, where she performs on the Spanish web and shows off her trained animals. But when a severe storm scatters the troupe, Rose must rise to a new set of challenges. Though Rose continually refers to the wonder and magic of her profession—her “one passion,” per the title—no book could better cure the reader of a desire to run away and join the circus. Its marvels are asserted but thinly described; instead, the book devotes space to supposedly funny episodes involving a quantity and variety of excrement that readers might not believe possible. Toilets, farts, urine, vomit; feces from human, pig, parrot, horse, goose, monkey, dog; the senile old lady repeating “Piss…piss…piss” and “Chamber pot!”—it never ends. When not playing for laughs, it’s for humiliation, as when Rose is made to scrub some filthy toilets while wearing her circus costume in view of laughing local teenagers. Leaving aside bodily waste, it’s also disturbing to see Rose enjoying her sexual exploitation as she responds to her boss’ “ultimate dominance.” The disgusting elements make it more than a little difficult to buy high-flown statements about wonder and magic and how the real world is a nothing but a jail. Similarly, it’s difficult to buy into the thwarted romance between Rose and Freddy, a circus clown. “It’s the circus that protects our love, isn’t it?” she says. “Beyond this world around the big top, our love could never be.” There’s no such thing as divorce? More unbelievable yet is Rose’s fate after returning to civilization, which involves a naked wish-fulfillment fantasy about her journal being made into a movie.
A flimsy narrative and excessive scatology.