Some months ago I ordered a book as a gift for a friend from Small Beer Press, a small independent publisher in the USA. As usual, when the book arrived, they had included in the package an assortment of oddments, like A Working Writer’s Daily Planner , an ARC (advanced readers copy) of a novel called The Liminal People, several promotional postcards and an attractive bookmark, masquerading as a ticket to the Cirque Mechanique, which intrigued and charmed me. There is a web address –www.circus-tresaulti.com- on the ticket, but somehow I kept forgetting to investigate it.
Last week, I read Jeff Vandermeer’s short reviews of recommended science fiction & fantasy books for summer reading on the New York Times web site. One of the books on his list was Mechanique -A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti whereupon I realised what the bookmark was all about and set about acquiring a copy of the novel.
One of the best things about having a Kindle is that one doesn’t have to wait for books that are unavailable in Australia to arrive from overseas. In some cases this can take up to three weeks. Sure, it’s pleasant to anticipate a package, but then again why wait.
One of the postcards contained in the Small Beer Press package was promoting Weightless Books, an indie press ebook store. So there I surfed and found Valentine’s Mechanique for the princely sum of $4.99. In a trice I had it downloaded and loaded onto my Kindle. It’s also available on Amazon (UK and com).
So was it worth it? Well, for $4.99 you couldn’t really complain if the book was not up to expectation, but Mechanique turned out to be a real gem, a keeper. I’m tempted to buy a hard copy of it for my book collection.
I finished reading the book this morning, emerging as if from a dream, having been thoroughly immersed and seduced by Genevieve Valentine’s tale of an unusual circus troupe travelling through a world devastated by war .
The circus performers are mechanical in the sense that they have been enhanced with metal, wire , cogs and gears, but retain a fragile humanity. They can die, but they can also be reincarnated and they refer to themselves as having the bones. What having the bones means is gradually revealed over the course of the novel. To keep up appearances those artists who are unmodified wear metal gloves and shoes or in the case of Little George, walk around in brass legs. They are manufactured, so to speak, by the female circus ringmaster Boss, though that is not her real name. Boss is somehow magically gifted in the art of raising the dead and mending her broken creations.
Of all Boss’s creations , it is the flying man that haunts the novel. The original flying man, Alec, is only present in the story as a memory, a powerful memory at that. He fell, and the repercussions of his fall are a poignant thread throughout the book.
Mechanique is certainly a strange and wondrous novel, but is very well written and strongly character based. Despite their obvious mechanical enhancements each character possesses a psychological depth that causes the reader to willingly suspend disbelief. The novel proceeds as the circus moves, from place to place and from one character’s point of view to another. It reminded me somewhat of Angela Carter’s Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman – it has that same feel of exotic location.
It’s a melancholy novel, quite heartbreaking. As I said before it’s a gem and a delightful discovery for me of a new writer I had not previously come across.