Review Blog

Jan 31 2017

The trapeze act by Libby Angel

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Text, 2017. ISBN 9781925355925
(Age: 15+) Recommended. The trapeze act is a first novel by Adelaide poet Libby Angel and is set in an unnamed but recognisable Adelaide. It is about the influences exercised by family and place on the development of character. It starts with the narrator, Loretta, attending a retreat to 'find herself', 'to leave the past and future alone and to concentrate on being'. Unfortunately her mother's real and imagined words keep interfering, tying Loretta to the past and reminding her of what her family is and who she is. And so begins this novel with an eccentric cast of characters who make up the narrator and this city we live in. Loretta is thirteen for much of the action and daily life is unpredictable. Her father, a successful and promiscuous barrister, is not interested in the past but his family's story is spoken by journals that Loretta finds. Her mother is the child of circus owners and is a performer in many ways, maddeningly unpredictable both in everyday life and in the stories she tells about circus life. She resolutely refuses to conform to the stereotype of a mother, and eventually of a woman. She has affairs, performs in plays thought to be scandalous and shaves off all her hair. However, her eccentricities give Loretta the ability to see through claptrap and to ignore stifling middle class sensibilities. She endures her mother's capriciousness by day and at night escapes from it by retreating into her great-great-great-grandfather's journals. A mercantilist forced into commerce by greed for ivory he journeys into the South Australian hinterland as one of the earliest explorers but is thwarted by the nature of the outback and is rescued by Aboriginal people. Loretta's brother inherits his mother's disruptive spirit, even at one point physically demolishing the family house. The mercantilist is driven mad by the outback, Loretta's mother by the nature of the city, perhaps, and conformity seems to be the way to survival. Yet the novel is not dark or depressing; it is quixotic and unpredictable and entertaining, like a good circus act. The language is at times poetic and surprising, while nonetheless apt. It is recommended for older readers.
Jenny Hamilton

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