[Vanessa and Tim are travelling in Austria, trying to track down a circus]
The first thing I saw, as we ran into the village of Oberhausen, was a [circus] poster wrapped round a tree-trunk. The second was the circus itself in a field to the right of the road, a motley collection of tents, wagons and caravans, grouped in an orderly confusion round the big top…
[Narrator Vanessa catches sight of a young woman] This was the girl I had seen on the news reel. Moreover, in the flesh, and in the bright light of day, she was prettier even than I remembered. She was of small to medium height, with a slender curved young figure, and fair hair tied neatly back in a pony tail. … she was charmingly dressed now in the traditional white blouse, flowered dirndl and apron. She looked about eighteen.
observations: Margot Kinberg (at her marvellous Confessions of a Mystery Novelist blog) recently did a post on people who live a travelling lifestyle. A couple of her examples came from circus people, which reminded me of this book.
Mary Stewart wrote rather good thrillers (from the 1950s through to the 1990s) about independent young women falling into dramatic adventures, usually in an exotic location. In this one, Vanessa seems to have mislaid her husband Lewis, and is travelling with the teenaged Tim, son of a friend. They get tied up with a travelling circus, and there is obviously some kind of secret business going on regarding the husband, and there is a connection with the Lipizzaner horses of Vienna. So plenty of excellent plotlines. Vanessa is a vet, so good with the horses – Stewart’s heroines might seem romantic, but they usually have careers and take their own lives and dreams seriously. It is true they are always going to end up with a nice man, but my contention was always that they are a lot more feminist than they might appear at first glance. This is what I said in an earlier entry on Stewart:
[her heroines] didn’t need a man to rescue or protect them, and they certainly made me think that a woman’s 20s might be a great time for travel, work and a nice flat. This was by no means the impression you would get from many adult novels of the time.In this one Vanessa has sex with her husband, which surprised me – it isn’t described, but it is plain that that is what happened: ‘you’d better get your clothes on again’.
There is a lot of entertaining and informative detail about circuses and about the training of horses in particular – there’s a heart-stopping moment where an old horse, out to grass, hears music in the distance and starts to perform his old routines. ‘Airs Above the Ground’ – what a fabulous title – describes certain manoeuvres that the most well-trained horses can perform.
Stewart also wrote the wonderful Crystal Cave, about Merlin and King Arthur. I like the adventure books, but Crystal Cave is on a higher plane altogether, it would be one of my Desert Island books.
The circus poster is from the Library of Congress. The fraulein in the dirndl is from the Bundesarchiv:
"Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F054585-0011, Bonn, Abschiedsempfang Landesvertretung Bayern" by Wegmann, Ludwig / CC-BY-SA. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 de via Wikimedia Commons.