A luminous and bewitching debut novel that is perfect for fans of Angela Carter. Set in Victorian London, it follows the fortunes of Eve, the Lion-Faced Girl and Abel, the Flayed Man. A magical realism delight.
Before Eve is born, her mother goes to the circus. She buys a penny twist of coloured sugar and settles down to watch the heart-stopping main attraction: a lion, billed as a monster from the savage heart of Africa, forged in the heat of a merciless sun. Mama swears she hears the lion sigh, just before it leaps…and when Eve is born, the story goes, she didn’t cry – she meowed and licked her paws.
When Abel is pulled from the stinking Thames, the mudlarks are sure he is long dead. As they search his pockets to divvy up the treasure, his eyes crack open and he coughs up a stream of black water. But how has he survived a week in that thick stew of human waste?
Cast out by Victorian society, Eve and Abel find succour from an unlikely source. They will become The Lion Faced Girl and The Flayed Man, star performers in Professor Josiah Arroner’s Palace of Curiosities. And there begins a journey that will entwine their fates forever.
Before I am born, my mother goes to the circus.EVE, LONDON, NOVEMBER 1831
(@BoroughPress, 28 March 2013, ebook, 337 pages, bought from @AmazonKindle)
I’ve read and loved other work by the author though this is the first book I actually bought. It won the Mslexia Novel Compensation before it was released and I read and loved the extract published in the magazine when it had the working title, The Beast In All Her Loveliness. I’ve read other books that deal with similar themes and ideas such as circus and freak shows though not one written with such beauty and tenderness and never from the viewpoint of the shows or exhibits in such places. The chapters alternate from the viewpoint of Eve, the Lion-Faced-Girl and Abel, The Flayed Man who seems to be immortal and feels no pain even when his skin is almost stripped clean away and heals no matter how many wounds are inflicted. The connection between them forces Eve to face the harsh reality of her ’marriage’ to Mr Arroner and her true role in his show. This is a beautiful book.