Patricia Duncker

Body Blows

Orphans of the Carnival

By Carol Birch

Canongate 380pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

Neo-Victorian fiction delights in freaks, curiosities and the monstrous, as did the Victorians. Carol Birch’s new book, a biographical novel about Julia Pastrana, a genuine performing freak, self-consciously incorporates several common characteristics of contemporary neo-Victorian writing. The novel is ‘based on a true story’ and follows the high road of the historical record rather than burrowing into the suggestive gaps. Birch also employs a double narrative. Julia’s story begins in the 1850s with her debut on Broadway, while a parallel, modern narrative set in Thatcher’s England (remember her famous suggestion that we should all embrace Victorian values) opens in a household of marginal eccentrics and aged-hippy types living on society’s border.

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