Elizabeth Macneal’s marvellous debut, The Doll Factory, was a bestselling success. This second book, beautifully written and filled with character and life, cements her reputation as a new talent.
The circus setting is admittedly a little more hackneyed than the taxidermy and pre-Raphaelite painting in her debut, but underneath the spangles and showmanship, there’s always a lingering stink of horse shit and anxiety. For a novel about a vanished, seemingly alien world, it is also pleasingly contemporary. In the Crimea Toby was chiefly engaged in the dissemination of fake news or spin, presenting a sanitised version of the battlefield. Jasper’s ever more expansive dreams point to mechanisation and the eventual replacement of disobedient human employees altogether. That Jasper is not a villain, Nell no heroine, and Toby entirely unsuited to the role of Romeo, is a mark of Macneal’s subtlety and originality.