The Trapeze Act

Libby Angel

The Trapeze Act
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The Trapeze Act

Libby Angel

Loretta’s mother was a trapeze artist in Europe, the star of the famed Rodzirkus circus, before she walked out on her drunken husband and his debts while on tour in Australia. But a life in 1960s suburban Adelaide was always going to be difficult, even if she does land herself the most handsome young barrister of the town, and Leda’s behaviour raises more than a few eyebrows.

Leda’s father, handsome barrister Gilbert Lord, has no interest in his past, but hidden in a wardrobe are the journals of his ivory merchant great-great-grandfather who led an expedition to Australia’s desert interior to search for elephants.

For Loretta, growing up in her mother’s flamboyant and often outrageous shadow, life is stifling and at times brutal. But the harder she tries to separate herself from her mother, the more she longs for her attention and love-and the more she finds that the past is inextricably woven into her own life and who she is.

The Trapeze Ac
t weaves stories of the circus and the doomed ivory expedition through a novel that is at once a heartbreaking tale of the search for acceptance and a celebration of the lustre and magic of life.

Review

The Trapeze Act, the debut novel from Australian writer Libby Angel, is an expertly layered, lyrical rumination on family and identity. Growing up in suburban Adelaide in the 1960’s, Loretta is the daughter of Leda, an eccentric Dutch trapeze artist, and Gilbert, an emotionally distant barrister. For Loretta, life is unusual – her mother dresses in elaborate costumes on a daily basis, her brother has a habit of setting the school on fire, and her father says very little, yet is openly lusted after by women all over town.

The Trapeze Act weaves together multiple plotlines, building in narrative pace. The main thread is the stand-out: Loretta’s coming-of-age in the shadow of flamboyant, polarizing parents. Leda and Gilbert’s histories refuse to stay buried and Loretta finds herself subject to dramatic retellings of her mother’s scandalous life in the circus. She finds comfort sifting through diary entries detailing her paternal great-grandfather’s migration to colonial Australia, and failed ivory expedition in the South Australian outback.

Angel shifts seamlessly between these three moments in one family’s history, gently revealing connections throughout. Evoking Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Leda’s circus tales are electrifying and often tragic. Leda is one of the most memorable characters I’ve read in a long time. A captivating narrator, she gleefully builds suspense as she tells tales of death-defying stunts and gruesome accidents in the Big Top while the audience of her children (and in turn, the reader) hold their breath. Loretta’s great-grandparents’ fragmented journal entries are tightly researched and romantic, and will delight lovers of Australian historical fiction.

Angel has a vivid imagination and poetic skill with language. Her prose is evocative, her strikingly original characters as bright and colourful as they are intense. The Trapeze Act is a compelling portrait of a highly dysfunctional but delightful family. I look forward to seeing more from this talented writer.


Stella Charls is the marketing and events coordinator for Readings.

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