City of Circles Hardcover – 10 Aug 2017
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Utterly transporting. (The Pool)
What a rich sensory experience Jess creates for us. What a full and fascinating world. Her exploration of self and grief will resonate with many who have struggled to find the quiet sense of themselves in a busy, confusing world. (Ros Barber, author of Desmond Elliot Prize-winning The Marlowe Papers)
Fans of Angela Carter and Erin Morgenstern will love this latest book from the Costa-shortlisted author. Enthralling love story about two circus performers, City of Circles is mesmerizing and vividly imagined. (Storgy, Summer Reads)
Her writing reminds me of Anna Smaill's The Chimes. It is lyrical and sensual, at times dense with wordplay and mythologising. (Landfall Review)
Mind-blowing to read. (Sophie Elaina blog)
I quickly found myself immersed in the enchanting world of magic, runes, tarot cards and hexes, as well as the powerfully evoked atmosphere of the circus - I could almost smell the sawdust! I loved the poetic, mystical and ethereal nature of the author's prose and frequently found myself reflecting on the ideas and observations she introduced into the story... such an original, wonderfully fantastic story, containing so many layers of meaning which would offer fertile ground for lively discussion. Anyone who enjoys magical realism will be in for a treat with this thought-provoking story. (nudge)
The author's exploration of grief and of a young woman's search for herself was one of the most emotionally affecting pieces of writing I have ever read. She captured so vividly and sensitively how it is possible to feel numb and alone, even when surrounded by people who love and care for you... I loved the poetic, mystical and ethereal nature of the author's prose and frequently found myself reflecting on the ideas and observations she introduced into the story. (BookGeek)
A magical love story between two circus performers, for fans of Angela Carter and Erin Morgenstern by Costa-shortlisted author Jess Richards.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
It’s as if Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka have taken you by the hand and led you into a Max Escher picture of Gormenghast and The Magic Faraway Tree with refreshments by Timothy Leary. Such language, such imagination, such imagery. This book had me in its thrall right from the start. And I fear I may lack objectivity. In truth I do not know if this book is good or bad. But I do know that the Book Cupid shot an arrow into my heart with it. And this book requires an open mind and an open heart.
On one level it’s simply a story, whimsical, quirky; how about running away from the circus instead of to it? A story of love, loss, grief. A story of searching. A story of Danu, the tightrope walker. Populated with characters of intensity, it’s a richly layered tale. Magical realism is the genre if you require a genre. And you can enjoy it just on that level.
But on another level the prose just blew me away. The words are like jewels, precious stones. I wanted to say them aloud and let the phrases roll off my tongue forever. It’s a long time since I have been so overwhelmed by the consistent beauty of language in one book.
And within that language are truths and wisdoms that I just wanted to read and re read. There’s so much that should not be glossed over as ‘just’ the narrative in a fiction. There are words and notions here to be pondered and considered. There’s paradox after paradox, yin and yang sublime. The name of the city in the story, Matryoshka, gives something away, named after the nestling dolls, one inside another.
Reading is subjective, I’ve already vaguely alluded to that. In your life as a reader there are maybe a handful of books that really grab hold of you. I thought I was too old for it to happen again!! But it has. I will read and re read this book. I will gift a copy to as many people as I can. I will name it as one of my favourite books, not just this year but of all time. And I am humbled, for this book deserves better words than I can give it.
Thanks to Ruby Mitchell at Sceptre Books for an advance copy.
I struggled initially to get into the story, but once I did, I was entranced by this different and exotic world. The character of Danu is damaged and prickly yet sympathetic, and Morrie is kind and tolerant of her but not completely so. The city was beautifully represented in the prose, and I was sorry to finish the book and leave the setting behind. Lovely book.
As you can maybe tell from the synopsis, this is a difficult book to review because, not unlike Danu, it doesn’t know what it wants. When I read the brief summary for the book in my Vine queue, it sounded a little too much of a teenage romance but I ordered it based on the strength of her writing on display in her previous two books, Snake Ropes and Cooking with Bones. While most of the book will certainly appeal to teenagers, there are also several passages that contain (in my view unnecessary) sexual content – including the c*** word! – and infrequent swearing, which makes me think that the book would be more suitable for young adults. I also feel that in some places the imagery used is so obscure as to defy the reader's figuring out its meaning, while in others it's so easy to interpret I felt as if it were thrown in the reader's face.
From the outset, before reading the story of this story that the author has helpfully placed in the appendix, I realised that this is a very personal and deeply autobiographical novel, and it’s clear that the author has written her heart and soul into the story. My main point of irritation with the novel, however, stems from the fact that this appears like a loose accumulation of ideas, with not enough plot to weave them into a cohesive whole. Themes and ideas are brought to the reader’s attention and then abandoned, and unanswered questions abound. This becomes especially apparent in the latter half of the book where the narrative literally loses the plot. The reader is told that Danu’s locket, given to her on her mother’s deathbed, contains a mystery, and that this secret, never revealed to Danu while her parents were alive, and the locket itself, along with a memento of Danu’s father’s that she wears all the time, are central to Danu’s character, and yet the author all but gives up on this promising narrative thread and instead loses herself in an abundance of details that might have a significance to the author but which I couldn’t be bothered to unravel; the thread is picked up again only very close to the end and is then rushed to its conclusion. The result is that Danu isn’t really given any room to grow and change and, rather than being viewed as someone on the slow and difficult road to self-discovery, is instead in danger of being seen as losing herself in self-pity and coming across as incredibly self-absorbed; this is ironic because by setting Danu against Loretta, a minor character who vies for Morrie’s affection and who only thinks of herself, the author tries to show that these two women are polar opposites. Though I felt sorry for Morrie for most of the book, he hasn’t been given any room for development as he only ever seems to moon over Danu, and the entire love story in the end feels incredibly unsatisfying to me. This book could have been a haunting exploration of love, grief and the sacrifices that are necessary in order to find oneself, glimpses of which are apparent throughout the book despite the torrent of ideas, but the end result fell well short of my expectations.
Like in Jess Richards’ previous two novels, there are some fantastical elements to the story, though this time less so in evidence, and as usual she excels in the use of vivid and descriptive prose: the city of Matryoshka, composed of three concentric circles that rotate against each other and which cover the sides of a volcano, is made entirely believable through the author’s skill with words, and the Outer Circle in particular is a riot of smells, sights and sounds. But the flaws in the novel’s plotting are obvious and a flawed book dressed in beautiful prose is still a flawed book, which is a shame as I really wanted to like it. A generous three stars.
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