Competition published on August 4, 2017.
City of Circles is an entrancing love story between Danu and Morrie, two circus performers, and Danu’s Lewis Carroll-esque odyssey through the magical city of Matryoshka, that ends with a heart-warming yet bittersweet twist.
Danu is a tightrope walker who is mourning her parents, after a disease has ravaged the circus where she grew up. Her mother has entrusted her with a locket that hides a secret.
Over the years, Danu pushes away her grief and develops elaborate and successful high-wire acts with Morrie, a charismatic hunchback who wants to marry her. When the circus returns to Danu’s birthplace, Matryoshka, Danu is enchanted by the temples, spice mists, and pleasure seekers within the intoxicating outer circle district.
Here, she finally gains the courage to open her mother’s locket, and discovers the name of a stranger who lives behind the locked gate of the Inner Circle. Fated to remain in Matryoshka, Danu attempts to resolve this mystery…
Will she and Morrie ever be reunited, or will something far more unexpected be waiting for her in the mysterious heart of the city?
Reviewer Linda Hepworth was impressed:
The author’s exploration of grief and of a young woman’s search for herself was one of the most emotionally affecting pieces of writing I have ever read. She captured so vividly and sensitively how it is possible to feel numb and alone, even when surrounded by people who love and care for you. At one point in the story she describes fifteen words for loneliness, each depicting a different aspect of this feeling, and I found myself wondering why no other author has, in my experience, ever explored it with such clarity and pathos. Her reflections that when people die they take with them the answers to all the unasked questions which remain with the living is not a new idea, but she injected it with a particular poignancy. Her choice of Matryoshka as the name of the city of circles was central to the developing story as it soon became clear that there were stories within stories, secrets within secrets, and that getting to the heart and essence of what was important required the characters to patiently explore each and every layer as it presented itself.
I quickly found myself immersed in the enchanting world of magic, runes, tarot cards and hexes, as well as the powerfully evoked atmosphere of the circus – I could almost smell the sawdust! I loved the poetic, mystical and ethereal nature of the author’s prose and frequently found myself reflecting on the ideas and observations she introduced into the story. I think this would be a good choice for reading groups because it is such an original, wonderfully fantastic story, containing so many layers of meaning which would offer fertile ground for lively discussion.
Anyone who enjoys magical realism will be in for a treat with this thought-provoking story. I haven’t read Jess Richard’s previous two novels, Snake Ropes (short-listed for the 2012 Costa First Novel Award) and Cooking with Bones, but now feel keen to remedy this omission!
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The Competition is closed.
About the author
Jess Richards was born in Wales in 1972 and studied Creative Writing at Sussex University in 2010. Her debut novel, Snake Ropes, was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa First Novel Award and longlisted for the Green Carnation Prize. Her second novel, the acclaimed Cooking with Bones was published in 2014. City of Circles is her third novel.
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City of Circles by Jess Richards, published on 10 August, 2017 by Sceptre, in hardback
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