ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carol Birch is the author of ten previous novels, including Scapegallows (2008) and Turn Again Home (2003) which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. She has also won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the David Higham Award for Best First Novel. Jamrach’s Menagerie was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and the London Book Award.
The dazzling new novel, evoking the strange and thrilling world of the Victorian carnival, from the Man Booker-shortlisted author of Jamrach’s Menagerie.
A life in the spotlight will keep anyone hidden.
Julia Pastrana is the singing and dancing marvel from Mexico, heralded on tours across nineteenth-century Europe as much for her talent as for her rather unusual appearance. Yet few can see past the thick hair that covers her: she is both the fascinating toast of a Governor’s ball and the shunned, revolting, unnatural beast, to be hidden from children and pregnant women.
But what is her wonderful and terrible link to Rose, collector of lost treasures in an attic room in modern-day south London? In this haunting tale of identity, love and independence, these two lives will connect in unforgettable ways.
It has been more than a month since I have uploaded a review, but I was engaged in refurbishing agenda in my home country – Bulgaria. All has ended well, no fingers hammered and no sanity- lost. It came out to be a pretty decent kitchen to be honest. But as you probably are guessing I didn’t have much time to sit down and think over the wonderful novels I did read while, not painting or running around. I did manage to scribble down some remarks, thou… So based on them today I am going to tell you about Carol Birch’s novel, which both moved me and left me in awe.
Carnivals, and human monsters have always been a subject of great intrigue for me. Having in mind that my brother, had he been born a couple of centuries earlier, might have shared the same destiny as many of travelling peculiar humans brought to the public to horror and amuse. The portray of people with any sorts of disability is a delicate matter I briefly discussed in my dissertation, and a subject I fear is often disregarded and rucked at the back of the human rights agenda.
Therefore, picking up this book was a natural outcome of my born and bred interests in the life of the peculiar. I have previously read The Night Circus, and wasn’t really impressed with the ending of the story, this is why I approached the story not exactly with open hands. The book is a fictional account of the life of Julia Pastrana – a woman born with a genetic condition, hypertrichosis terminalis (or generalized hypertrichosis lanuginosa); her face and body were covered with straight black hair. Her ears and nose were unusually large, and her teeth were irregular. The latter condition was caused by a rare disease, undiagnosed in her lifetime, Gingival hyperplasia, which thickened her lips and gums.
In short she was the perfect object of ridicule and an even more appropriate choice for a travel companion of a carnival. A heartbreaking story of a life led in service to the others. Definately not for the faint hearts, it will make you cry, that one is certain. In many ways I feel this novel could be used as a metaphor for the journey all “Different” have to take upon to embrace the life they are destined for. Julia Pastrana was a born ‘freak’, but an accomplished very talented one who was a dancer, a performer, could speak several languages and could both charm and horrify people. But like many women, all she wanted was to be loved for who she was beneath her ‘animal countenance’. Everyone knows no man could ever look upon such ugliness and find love, it is unheard of, surely. She feels cursed, could her mother have gone out under a full moon and her punishment was this monster infant?
Orphans of the Carnival is a wonderful atmospheric read portraying what it’s like to be truly different and chronicling a life spent making the best of what you’ve got. Read it, then sit you sassy asses down and think about the life we are living today, so privileged and free… Way more accepting than we can ever wish for.