*I received a free ARC of this novel, with thanks to Quercus Books and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: A lyrical and atmospheric homage to the strange and extraordinary, perfect for fans of Angela Carter and Erin Morgenstern.
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?
Beautiful and intoxicating, A Girl Made of Air brings the circus to life in all of its grime and glory; Marina, Manu, Serendipity Wilson, Fausto, Big Gen and Mouse will live long in the hearts of readers. As will this story of loss and reconciliation, of storytelling and truth.
A Girl Made of Air is a devastating tribute to loneliness and isolation, and a haunting blend of magic realism with the mundane and sordid – the grime beneath the glamour of a circus life.
The story is told by Mouse, the main character, in a letter to an unnamed interviewer, and spans from her earliest remembered memories right up to her current, retirement years. Mouse’s tale of life as a circus child, and later performer, encompasses the folklorish magic of hair that glows like a beacon and the ability to call from mind to mind; myths and legends of mermaids and sirens, and faerie changelings; and the mud, gin and animalistic ruttings that happen in the shadows of the circus wagons. From the heights of her tightrope – dazzling and ethereal – to crawling around, eavesdropping and envying, in the muck, Mouse holds nothing back, combining the intimacy of her confessions with the detachment of a true performer, who isn’t sure where the persona ends and the personality begins.
What comes through most in the story is the aching sadness of it all. Mouse is rejected and isolated, her mother is bitter and burnt out, and even the glorious, glowing Serendipity Wilson isn’t wholly immune to the dragging effect of real life on her fairytale. There is camaraderie aplenty, as the circus folk close around their own like any extended family, but this is a circle of damaged people unwittingly – or sometimes, deliberately – perpetuating the patterns of damage and damaging each other further in the process.
There is love and hope, but Mouse seems unable to grasp or understand them, holding herself taut and stepping her wire lightly through her life, while people love, grieve, laugh and gasp far beneath her. Her story is one of missed chances, poor decisions and regret after regret. And yet, ever the performer, still her show goes on as she weaves her story and presents her greatest performance yet for her smallest audience.
Not a happy, joyful story, but one that stays with the reader, leaving a smell of greasepaint, candyfloss and animal dung, and the vision of a sparkling, solitary figure dancing delicately through the air, forever.
Above everything, this correspondence is a cry for help. You seemed so alive to my stories. Even if you can’t publish everything I write here, even if it’s a long shot. Will you help me?– Nydia Hetherington, A Girl Made of Air
I’ve little to offer in return, only the story of my life, and the promise of truth.
Let’s begin with hope, then. My words are a labyrinth into which we can wander. AS I write these tales, I can follow each path, each fallen leaf, in the hope they might take me to the person I seek. I’m grateful to have a companion, again.