A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington

#GirlMadeOfAir #NydiaMadeOfAir #bookreview #Bookbloggers

Sometimes all you can say when you finish a book is ‘Wow’. When that happens I close the book and have a moment of reverence. I need a few moments, in silence, to take in what I’ve read. I often need overnight before I can start a new book. I suppose you could describe it as being haunted – the thought of a scene or a letter in a book that invades your thoughts when you least expect it. It stays there, sometimes forever, to become a part of you. In the same way a particular aria or love song might forever float through your head. Some books lie on the surface, they pass the time, they amuse, and I do enjoy them but they don’t stay. Others get into your brain, like a complex puzzle you have to keep fiddling with, this way and that, until you find a solution. Some books enter your soul, they make you feel real physical emotions, they make you wonder in the same way you did as a child when a book took you away on a marvellous adventure. They touch you soul deep. This is one of those books.

Nydia Hetherington is a sorceress. She has conjured up this box of terrors and delights from the depths of her imagination and it is incredible. We follow Mouse as she crawls, peeps, stumbles and walks around the incredible show that is a circus. Billed as a tale about the Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived I was expecting glitz and glamour, the front of house show. However, the author cleverly goes deeper than that, far behind the curtain. Incredible descriptive passages draw us in to Mouse’s world from the smell near the big cats enclosure, the feel of a llama’s fur against your skin, the cramped but colourful quarters of the circus folk and the volatile relationship between her mother Marina and father Manu. So focussed on each other, her parents seem barely aware of her existence as she watches the drab and grubby circus folk become stars of the ring with their make-up, sequins and feathers. Her freedom gives us access to every part of this wondrous world, but freedom has its dark side and for Mouse this is really a tale of parental neglect. She is brought up by the circus, by the mother of the company Big Gen and her husband Fausto and eventually by Serendipity Wilson, the flame haired high wire artists who takes Mouse under her wing. Under her tuition Mouse becomes an incredible tightrope walker, able to take her place under the spotlight like her parents.

Serendipity with her flaming hair that glows like amber is from the Isle of Man and brings with her all the mythology of the islands. She weaves incredible stories for Mouse, who now sleeps in her wigwam, in much the same way as mystical fog weaves around her according to her mood. She thinks that Manu and Marina barely notice she’s gone, but Manu enlists her help to get Marina performing again. They coax her into the tank to perform as a mermaid for the crowd. Even so, there is no discernible warmth between Mouse and her mother, Marina’s focus is always inward to her own problems. It is after her mother’s death that Mouse is handed a letter from her mother, in which she admits to never feeling love for her child and explains why. For me this was the most powerful part of the book, and brought me to tears. The author has cleverly placed this moment of stark reality within the magic and it gives the letter huge emotional impact. It hits home the idea that all freedom has a price. Mouse has never had a mother, except the warmth and care she’s had from Serendipity and never questions whether that will change.

Bookending these stories is an elderly Mouse, recounting her life to a journalist. Living in New York, she recalls her arrival in the city and her expectations of Coney Island. She is older and recounts her past from a distance, but what comes across is terrible regret and sorrow around the disappearance of a child from the circus family. She is haunted by a flame haired Serendipity Wilson who, like all mothers, lives on as a voice in Mouse’s head; her inner critic commenting on all she does, only silent when Mouse truly lives in the moment. It’s in these sections that we see what the book is truly about. I expected a book about the spectacle of the circus, the showmanship and all that glitters. Instead this is a meditation on what it is to be human. The journalist asks the questions that go beneath Mouse’s surface and see the gritty truth; we are all flawed and we all make mistakes. This is a beguiling mix of myth, magic and human frailty. Truly brilliant.

You may also enjoy:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Published by thelotusreaders

Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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