A few months ago I read Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel, which is about a travelling Theatre company in a post-apocalyptic world. On Goodreads, on the “if you liked this book you might like…” The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan, was recommended.
It is about a travelling circus in a post-apocalyptic world. See a trend emerging somewhere? I’m not an absolute fan of post-apocalyptic / dystopian novels, but I love a good one now and then. Which is basically saying I am a fan of good books, whatever the genre. Which is basically saying very little indeed.
In any case, I picked this one up because I am in the process of reading ” War’s Unwomanly Face” by Svetlana Alexievich, a collection of testimonies by women who fought mainly during the 2nd world war (but also in other wars where the Soviet Union was involved), which is an earth-shattering book about War, Women, collective versus individual memory, and many other things, but, as you might suppose, not a very light-hearted one.
So I was a bit depressed and started reading this one for a change of scenery. And realized it might very well fit under the #AW80Books travel itinerary, because it is a book where the characters are almost constantly travelling – by boat – from an Island to the next.
And if you want a scenery that is drastically different from – well, anything else, really – I would recommend the Gracekeepers.
This is set in a world where see levels have risen so much there are only a few dispersed Islands in a vast Ocean. But it is absolutely not centred around “post-apocalyptic survival”. The remaining people are either living on land and afraid of water, or living on boats and despised by the former.
North, a young woman, is a bear girl: she lives on one of those boats, a Travelling Circus company, where she performs every night with her trained bear. We follow her and the rest of her company from Island to Island, as they struggle to make enough money to eat, and with tensions rising amongst them – living in an enclosed space on the sea – and with the people on land.
On one of those small Islands there is a Gracekeeper, who performs ceremonies for the dead. North and the Gracekeepers’ path are linked and converge progressively, as tension raises.
This is a book built like an upcoming storm – which is also an event in the book, with a peaceful, poetic surface and a growing tension underneath. The universe created is fascinating: the acrobats and performers, this idea of multiple islands remaining and the drowned cities you can sometimes see underneath the surface.
It suggests, rather than fully develops, many themes: gender identity and androgyny, death and grief, love, and otherness (as all the main characters are cast-out of the traditional remaining society, but it also explores the concept of the historical “circus freak”).
In some aspects it is frustrating that all of those things are not fully developed, you want to know more, you feel some of the stories are left unfinished. But I suppose it is like the sea it depicts: just a surface, and it is up to you to build the drowned cities underneath.
A lovely book, then, with enough poetic weirdness for me to enjoy, to read if you like strangely beautiful stories. It made me travel a lot, and it was a nice watery escapade!