The Premise: Willow has run away repeatedly, but her millionaire father’s impending marriage with a woman half his age is the last straw; this time she’s going for good. Disappearing on the eve of the wedding, Willow flees across England, soon finding that life on her own is not quite what she expected.
Thoughts: I’ll start with positive things. The novel is divided into four distinct sections, each of which provides the reader with a different kind of reading experience. The first shows Willow in her enormous house, talking nonchalantly about her posh boarding school and her pony; I don’t think this part is meant to be funny but I couldn’t help but be amused by Willow’s ultimate first-world problems. At one point, she gets really angry because her father bought her a horse, but ruined it by getting one for her stepmother-to-be too. I know: how incredibly traumatic.
Reaching Hastings, Willow realises the depth of her own naivety when her money is stolen and she ends up sleeping rough. This part is gritty and quite affecting, but the fact that Willow could just go back to her afore-mentioned palace at any time reduced the impact for me. Her tragic friend Suz is what gives the novel its emotional thrust; it would make sense if she was in the book to highlight how ridiculous Willow is being, but that’s not really what’s going on.
I requested this book via NetGalley because I’m a bit of a sucker for circus-set stories. Since reading The Night Circus, I’ve been keen for other stories set in big tops and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Be warned; a circus does feature and the depiction of it is quite detailed, but it takes a long time to get there and it doesn’t last long.
In Conclusion: I am sure some readers (perhaps teen readers with a greater appreciation of angst and melodrama) will lap up Willow’s misasdventures. There’s loads going on in The Circus to keep the reader engaged. I just couldn’t deal with Willow; I kept waiting for an actual reason for her running away and it never came. There are hints at her having some form of mental illness, but these aren’t developed into anything that makes sense of her actions. Overall, this book wasn’t for me.