A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Beautifully written, dark circus tale


I have slightly mixed feelings about a Girl Made of Air.  On the one hand I think the writing is absolutely beautiful.  Hetherington manages to give an almost whimsical feel to what is essentially quite a dark tale with some very deep and sometimes disturbing themes.  However, I think the plot felt a little flimsy and I found myself liking the first half of the story more than the second half.

As the story begins we meet our pov – ‘Mouse’.  Known as The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived.  She is telling her story to a journalist following an interview and is using old journals and memories to bring the past back to life.

Mouse was born to two circus performers who basically had no interest in their child.  She was left to her own devices and often neglected until another performer joined the circus and took her under her wing.  Serendipity Wilson is the character with the flame coloured hair who became Mouse’s protector, teacher and mother-like figure and who eventually taught Mouse how to walk the tightrope and perform in the circus.

I actually really liked this part of the story.  It doesn’t particularly focus on the glamour of the circus so much as the grubby undertones that keep it functioning day to day.  Many of the circus performers live poor lives, lonely and often a little sad. We see Mouse’s parents, no longer at their best, ageing and depressed, Serendipity herself experiences depression after an illicit affair leaves her with a baby and eventually this child is also lost which leads to the second half of the story where Mouse leaves the circus and instead becomes a performer at Coney Island.

To avoid spoilers I’m not really going to discuss the plot but discuss my thoughts and feelings instead.

As I already mentioned the writing is really a thing of beauty.  It quite belies the true nature of the story which far from being a tale of whimsy or magical realism is more a haunting tale steeped in folklore and powerfully sad back stories.  In this respect the book went in a direction I never foresaw, in fact I think I was expecting a little more fantasy amongst the pages than was the case but I didn’t feel disappointed in that respect.  More that I needed to adjust my expectations and realise that the magic contained in these pages was much more illusory and contained more smoke and mirrors than anything else.

In terms of the characters.  Mouse is a strange one.  She had a very unusual upbringing being unwanted and unloved.  Her parents desperate passion for each other left very little room for anyone else and she was frequently ignored becoming almost feral, sleeping with the circus animals and often going unfed.  It’s little wonder that she’s not the easiest character to get along with and she certainly makes mistakes as the story progresses, in fact you can see things unfolding and going horribly wrong and you almost want to reach out and tell her to stop, but then this would have been a completely different story.  So, things go wrong and the consequences are dire.  Serendipity was actually my favourite character.  She’s probably the only character who bought a semblance of humanity to the tale.  She wasn’t as self absorbed as the others, she took the time to bring Mouse up providing her with some love and companionship and along the way she regaled us with fascinating stories from her own childhood.

In effect this is a tale of one woman’s search for answers, not just in relation to the missing child but also a voyage of discovery for herself.

In terms of criticisms I found myself less engaged in the second half of the story when Mouse’s fame and fortune really took off.  If anything this part of the story felt a little lost and maybe even a little rushed.  That being said I was equally as keen as Mouse to find answers and so pushed forward easily.

I think this is definitely a book that you need to be in the right frame of mind for.  There are dark themes here that took the story in a direction I never anticipated and I would say this has a more ‘historical’ feel than anything else, especially given the period and the inclusion of elements such as WW2 and the holocaust.

Overall, whilst I didn’t absolutely fall in love with the storyline or the characters I was really impressed by the author’s ability to conjure such gorgeous prose and I will definitely look out for future books with anticipation.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars.


10 Responses to “A Girl Made of Air by Nydia Hetherington”

  1. Timy

    And once again, we are pretty much on the same page! It’s been a while since I read this book, but I remember having mixed feelings just as yourself. Great review as always!

  2. Andreas

    Better read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, huh?

    • @lynnsbooks

      I should also try to get to that one. I’ve owned a copy for ages.
      Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Your description of this book points indeed toward a so-called “mood read” and I guess much of its success would depend on the reader’s frame of mind when they pick it up…
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  4. Tammy

    The cover gives it a whimsical feel, so it’s surprising there are dark and sad moments. I have to admit I’m intrigued 😁

    • @lynnsbooks

      Definitely dark moments- and yes,they were a little unexpected.
      Lynn 😀

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