Review: The Troupe

By Robert Jackson Bennett

Orbit, out now

Sixteen year old George Carole is on the trail of his father – the mysterious Heironomo Silenus. But there is far more to Silenus than just a simple master of ceremonies in a vaudeville theatre. He’s a player on a much larger stage…

There are books that require you to savour them as you read them, and Bennett’s third novel (after the chilling Mr Shivers and The Company Man) is one such. The characters are so deep and multi-layered, and the mystery at the heart of the troupe so all-encompassing that you want to let the various developments register at their own speed.

Bennett uses the tropes of vaudeville – the glamour and the glitz which hide misdirection and squalid realities – to great effect.  The phrase “all the world’s a stage” has never been more appropriate: the foul-mouthed Silenus is on a quest, for reasons that become clear, to try to get answers to the most fundamental questions of all. Why do things happen the way they do? What sort of person (or God) would create the world in the way it is? And to get those answers, he will travel anywhere.

It’s also a tale about fathers and sons, and the bond between them – particularly the many unspoken ways in which paternal and filial affection can be shown, and the ways in which that impinges on those around them.

If you like the Steven Moffat interpretation of Doctor Who, then you may well enjoy this: not because it’s the adventures of a madman with a box (although there are certain elements to that effect), but because at their heart, both are about secrets at the heart of the universe – both the objective one, and the solipsistic, very personal one.

Verdict: Thought-provoking, beautifully written, and highly recommended. 9/10

Paul Simpson


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