Review: Circus by Claire Battershill

circusA dazzling collection of award-winning stories with the emotional punch, sharp wit, and disarming charm of Rebecca Lee, Karen Russell, Neil Smith, and Jessica Grant.

Ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Step right up and prepare to be dazzled by this delightful debut from Claire Battershill, winner of the CBC Literary Award, co-winner of the  Canadian Authors Association’s Emerging Writer Award, and finalist for the inaugural PEN International/New Voices Award. As they transport us from a crowded airport departure lounge to the stillness of the British Museum, and from the spectacle of the Winter Olympics to the modesty of a local Miniatureland, these radiant stories explore the often surprising things we’re willing to do for love and human connection. Fed up with his long history of failed blind dates, a shy English bureaucrat gives himself thirty-one days to find love on the Internet. A father buys his daughter a blue plastic tent to ready her for outdoor adventure, but neither is prepared when the tent becomes a neighbourhood sensation. The world of competitive sports provides the backdrop for a young man’s coming of age in “Two-Man Luge: A Love Story.” And in the award-winning title story, the granddaughter of a former circus performer (who played the role of a man-wrestling bear) finds herself grappling with the capriciousness of life and love.

At once witty, tender-hearted, and profound, these stories are filled with a memorable and all-too-human cast of characters on the cusp of enormous change – whether they’re ready or not. Written in spare yet startling language, Circus is a beautiful reminder that sometimes everyday life can be the greatest show on Earth.

The cover is what initially attracted me to this book, which is something I would not have normally gone for. However, I did enjoy reading it, and am glad it caught my eye.

Short stories should be fun, at least in my opinion, and these, even when dealing with heavy subject matter, still provide an enjoyable reading experience. Each story in this collection is told in a different way, a way best suited to the story, and the thrill of not knowing what you’ll encounter when you turn the page keeps you reading. My favourite has to be “Each Small Thing”, but there weren’t any that I disliked.

From quiet meditations on everyday life to quirky, off-beat tales, from happiness to sadness to melancholy contemplation, this short volume covers a vast array of subjects. Each story ends at the exact right time; explaining enough for you to be able to enter the character’s world, while leaving enough unresolved to keep the stories cycling through your mind long after the last page is turned.

Batershill is excellent at capturing a character’s personality so completely that from the first page of the story you feel a certain intimacy with them. From teenage girls, to middle aged parents to retired men, you are awarded a window into each characters mind.

So, if you love short stories, you have to give this one a try.


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