Review: Haxby’s Circus

Haxby’s Circus by Katharine Susannah Prichard

Run away to the circus with this book by award-winning Australian novelist Katharine Susannah Prichard.

A world of wandering mushroom tents, spawning on bare paddocks beside some small town and then off again … places that smelt of milk and wheat, where the farmer people gave you milk and apples, or melons; you got fresh water to drink and a bath sometimes. A dirty, strenuous world. Cruel, courageous, a hard, hungry world for all the glitter and flare of its laughter; but a good world, her world.

Welcome to Haxby’s Circus – the lightest, brightest little show on earth. From Bendigo to Narrabri, travelling the long and dusty roads between harvest fields, the Haxby family and their troupe – acrobats, contortionists, wirewalkers, clowns and wild beasts – perform under the glaring lights of the big top. But away from the spotlight and superficial glamour of the circus the real, and sometimes tragic, lives of the performers are exposed: their hopes and dreams, successes and failures, the drudgery of life on the road.

Proprietor Dan Haxby lives by the maxim ‘the show must go on’, even when his daughter Gina, the bareback rider, has a dreadful accident. Gina may never ride again, but, with some advice from circus dwarf Rocca, who shows her how to transform her liability into art, she flourishes and discovers a courageous spirit within.

My Blurb (3.5 stars)

An impulse buy based on:
1. eye-catching cover: PINK!
2. I love anything CIRCUS related
3. Sale bin
4. Aussie classics

Did it live up to expectations? Yes and No… it’s a very realistic tale of circus life from the point of view of a woman. I love the glamourous face of a circus. Ever since I read Enid Blyton’s Circus series, I’ve always been enamoured (and a bit jealous) of the adventures of circus folks. This novel, however, does not spare you the drudgery and hard work of that life. And in that way, it’s a realistic story but it also made the novel hard to bear as sometimes the author would list of what needs doing etc. I found this last bit a little boring.

Gina Haxby has just bloomed into womanhood with the admiration of the crowd when she fell and broke her back. She will never again ride her beautiful horses nor perform any acrobatic feats. While her back is hunched, she’s lucky to still be alive and able to walk though it didn’t feel like that to her. She then found a reason to live; to protect her weak baby brother from her father’s expectations. Once again, tragedy struck and she decided not to stay with the circus but took her mother and new baby sister away.

She could not stay away forever, however, as fate brought them all back together. This time, however, she is a woman of strength and can stand on her own. Her little sister is also a strong character of her own and together, they will bring the circus back to its brightest.

I didn’t pay that much attention to the blurb at the back of the book before I started reading so I really was surprised when the first tragedy struck (oops!). I was really heartbroken for Gina as she’s such a lovable character but of course, steel needs tempering and that’s what’s happened. It wasn’t an easy road for Gina but she’s traversed it with help from her loved ones and flourished despite all that life dealt her.

I’ve read one other of this author’s work, Coonardo, and it was such a hard book to read (nature of topic). Haxby’s Circus was also a bit of a struggle as it was such a hard life that I barely felt the excitement of the circus. Plus the way she did lists became annoying and dreary after the first couple of times. Still, I did like the characters and the descriptions of life in Australia in those days.

About the author

Katharine Susannah Prichard was born in Levuka, Fiji in 1883, and spent her childhood in Launceston, Tasmania, before moving to Melbourne, where she won a scholarship to South Melbourne College. Her father, Tom Prichard, was editor of the Melbourne Sun newspaper. She worked as a governess and journalist in Victoria then travelled to England in 1908. Her first novel, The Pioneers (1915), won the Hodder & Stoughton All Empire Literature Prize. After her return to Australia, the romance Windlestraws and her first novel of a mining community, Black Opal were published.

Prichard moved with her husband, war hero Hugo “Jim” Throssell, VC, to Greenmount, Western Australia, in 1920 and lived at 11 Old York Road for much of the rest of her life. She wrote most of her novels and stories in a self-contained weatherboard workroom near the house. In her personal life she always referred to herself as Mrs Hugo Throssell. She had one son, Ric Throssell, later a diplomat and writer.

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