Tuesday, August 8, 2017

City of Circles


City of Circles, Jess Richards
Romance and literal tight-ropes you say?  I'm in.  As the tale waxed on, it became clear I was reading tragedy.  I continued, although I ached for the thoroughly-drawn characters.  From midway I found similarities to Neil Gaiman and Trudi Canavan, but Richards' voice is distinctly different from any other I've read.

There is more hope and beauty in the narrative's closure than a textbook tragic piece, but it's essential to emphasise: this tale is less about the fluffy stuff and more about soul-searching, emotional anguish, and management of grief.  An entire interlude is dedicated to a flashback interaction with a woman who invents and defines 15 new words for loneliness.

Segues such as these are frequent and oft-times lengthy.  Although I'm prone to resist too much tangential exposition, in the case of City of Circles, it matched the character's exploratory arc -- with each anecdote, memory, quoted plaque, song or poetry excerpt, scraps of perception were knitting together.  As a reader, we too are searching for meaning, alongside Duna, although occasionally these embellishments felt too long and too effectual upon pacing.

Although one reveal was clear very early, the minutia of everything else spiraling and cocooning around this anchor point was pure mystery.  Coupled with the weighted whimsy, the surprises page to page made the story and world a mystical navigational pleasure.  More than once I felt exhilarated by Richards' possiblity realm.

Duna's world has a timelessness to it that only heightened the mystical notes.  In one moment I was certain my characters occupied a pastoral world without technology, then electricity, paper towels or an elevator would gently intrude upon that visage to challenge my comfort in picking up any established time period and employing it for the story.  As I would rework my imagining with these modern inclusions, the prominence of horses for transport and absence of information technology resisted a new preconception taking the old one's place.  This beautiful setting complimented a world of lonely gypsies; a world separate and apart from our own.  

The text is thick with motifs and symbolism to reinforce the search, the loneliness and the mystical otherness.  Duna's poetry, interactions with sage-like strangers, introspection, dreams, visions, incantations, prayers and conversations with animals saturate the text and demand attention.  Scenes with horses, spiders and magpies were always welcome, for me.  Furthermore, all those that breathed life into the inanimate -- I relished them all.

I found the treatment of sex jarring and sad.  Although this has largely been Duna's experience of sex (warning: there is a violent advance early in the story, ultimately thwarted but rattling all the same), I was disappointed that almost all of the characters lacked any reverence for it.  Given sections have some omniscience and others are another character's perspective altogether, I would have welcomed more alternative treatment (there is one very brief alternative).  Describing having sex as f***ing, from the lips of more than one character, is disappointing.  What an ugly view.  I thought perhaps this word meant less for Richards', but other crass details and breasts being consistently called "tits" seemed at odds with such a poetic work.  Perhaps some might argue that is the point -- this juxtaposition of all that is beautiful alongside something the characters finds jarring and unwelcome, but I say again, supporting characters are portrayed as sharing this view.  This was a missed opportunity, for me, as I felt strongly that the intimacy one character in particular longed for was not at all f***king, and in fact represented an excellent representation of temperance and desire for love-making.  (I'd say there are about 10 f-swears in total and about 5 brief sexual encounters.  You could almost miss the latter for how brief they are, but they are there and sometimes explicit.  I was grossed out by one in particular.  It was the point, I'm sure, but heads up.)

It's unfortunate for me that the unpleasant scenes and pain of this story will probably stay with me longer than the beauty.   But oh there is beauty.


Officially out today.  
Review copy received from Hachette

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