The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Jenoff’s narrative is told by two different narrators, Astrid and Noa. Astrid is hiding out at the circus but is actually a talented aerialiste. Noa is discovered by the circus folk, unconscious in the wood with a baby and is brought into the troupe. Grateful for the salvation, it comes at a price: Noa must perform and Astrid must teach her the art of the flying trapeze in double quick time if she is to stay within the relatively safe confines of the circus.

The book begins with them at loggerheads but gradually, as their time progresses they become friends and have a relationship between them which is more like sisters. There are a lot of external pressures: regular visits from German soldiers on the lookout for hideaways; the financial constraints of wartime, exacerbated in a circus which relies on its showiness; secrets that people are hiding in order to remain alive.

There is lots in the book to like. It is set in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the circus, an insular world of suspicion and survival, and the ever present threat of the Germans hovers. For me, though, it didn’t feel scary enough and I am not sure why this is, as all the hallmarks of a tense atmosphere with peril around every corner was there. But I found myself a little underwhelmed.

Noa commits an extremely brave act at the start of the book but there was much of it where I found her annoying. She is young and lonely and perhaps acts a little selfishly, a dangerous personality trait to have in occupied Europe and I think it was this that rankled me. I liked Astrid and her story but again, it failed to ignite an emotive response in me and I was very much expecting to have one, the book being about such emotively explosive material.

Pam Jenoff is a competent writer and her writing develops in a linear way. Her characters are solid but I can’t help feeling that it is them that are at the root of my lack lustre response to this book.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery.

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