'Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.'- Angela Carter

Thursday, 14 February 2013

REVIEW: 'Pantomime' - Laura Lam

Pantomime - Laura Lam


R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilisation long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

My Review: 4/5*
*E-book provided by Net Galley*

This is the first review that I have had difficulty writing so far. I'm not entirely sure what it was about this book which put me off giving it the entire 5* rating because I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd say also that I enjoyed this book from the point of view of a critical reader rather than just losing myself within the pages of the novel - one of my first instincts was to recommend it to a lecturer who studies Queer Theory and Transgender Studies. Although this may have come from the fact that I've not long completed an essay on Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, I still think this would make a really good text to study through the lens of Queer/ Transgender Studies and also by applying Freud's theory of the Uncanny.

ANYWAY, enough of the critical side of things. Time to talk about the actual book. The tale is situated in a Steampunkesque, Gothic setting of the 'greatest circus of Ellada', Ragona's Circus of Magic. It follows the trials and tribulations of what at first glance appears to be two characters, that of Micah Grey and Iphigenia Laurus - otherwise known as Gene. The novel switches between two narratives, two narratives that we eventually piece together as that of the same person but with one in the form of flashbacks and the other as the present moment. Through the flashbacks, Lam displays to us the issues that Gene has growing up as a transgendered child within bourgeois surroundings. The goals of her parents are to marry her off to someone of an equal or higher class standing. With this narrow minded goal in sight, Gene is forced to hide her true identity as a transsexual in order to appear attractive to the opposite sex. This impact is catastrophic on the family as Gene is reluctant to embrace the what is considered feminine activities such as sewing, and is much more comfortable in befriending males and participating in male activities e.g. climbing.

I don't want to reveal too much, but there is an event which occurs with one of her close male friends which puts her hiding of her true identity at risk. Following this, she overhears her parents discussing her body and how at the next meeting with a doctor, they will be able to take a much more drastic action in 'curing' her of her transsexualism. This overhearing leads to her confiding in her brother and running away from home, disguised as a male. It is in this attire that she transforms herself into the figure of Micah Grey - one that we are not immediately aware of as different people - and makes it her goal to join and settle into the circus. Despite embracing the other side of her identity, she is still forced to hide what she truly is, even from the woman she eventually falls in love with, the aerialist Aenea. The scenes which situate within the circus are the most entertaining sections of the novel as we are unsure of the true agendas of the other members due to the conflicting attitudes of the Cook for instance, and the various figures which make Micah's life incredibly difficult for the first few weeks.

Despite Micah's troubles, she finally settles into the circus life and becomes an aerialist alongside Aenea. I really enjoyed this book. The whirlwind romance which develops between Micah and Aenea was amazing to read, alongside the awkwardness of the seeming advances made by one of the clowns, Drystan. The events which develop throughout keep you on the edge of your toes and wanting more. Laura Lam writes beautifully and creates an entirely original world of which I fell in love with. I felt that she dealt sensitively with the issues of transgender and the conflicts which arise - it was great to finally get a chance to read another piece of literature which deals with these issues. It isn't an area which is covered massively. the novel contains elements of the fantastic, with the mention of The Vestige, the Chimaera, the Penglass and also includes gods such as 'Kedi' - an all powerful god which is both male and female. The importance of these weren't completely developed within the book - this is probably what prevented me giving it the 5* rating - and I am eagerly awaiting Lam's next book to see how she develops these mystical elements. 

As a book filled with twists and turns, I couldn't help but flick through the book eagerly, craving more of the story. The book itself ends on a cliffhanger - something I find incredibly frustrating but also love. It's a shame that the next book won't be ready until 2014, it seems such a long way away at the moment! Despite it containing a love triangle of sorts - something I usually loathe - I was eager to find out what would happen between them. Things do not run smoothly but I'm not going to share what happens and spoil the feelings of shock which will come when you guys read the book! I loved this book and am really looking forward to the next one.


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