Before I am born, my mother goes to the circus.
Eve is the Lion-Faced Girl, covered from birth in fur, yearning for a happy relationship, married to the erratic Professor Arroner. Abel is the Man with No Memories, the Flayed Man, who can cut but never heal and who is desperately trying to find out who and what he is. In Professor Arroner’s Palace of Curiosities, the fates of Eve and Abel intertwine.
The language is very lyrical and weaves a beautiful, fairy-tale-like setting.
She told me new stories: of a prince clever enough to spot a princess through her wrapper of dirt, who would kiss the beast to make it beautiful. A fearless man who would fight through the bramble forest a hundred years’ thick, past the wolf at the gate. My fur was my protection. Only the most true of heart would find their way through.
The language is the book’s strong point. I also liked the characters, the main characters Eve and Abel as well as a lot of the secondary characters, like Lizzie the dancer. The mystery surrounding Abel was something else that kept me going. He can cut himself, but doesn’t bleed. He doesn’t die. And he has problems holding onto his memories. He doesn’t know what he is or where he came from. He stumbles through life like a sleepwalker, only sometimes woken by returning memories.
Every woman I have touched, and every man also: all have shrivelled, died; and I have looked on, unaltered, and unable to hold them to this life for ine breath longer.
Like the Morning Star, Eve has risen in the dark night of my existence. She warms me with the bright flame of understanding. All I need to do is stretch out my hands and receive the comfort she offers so freely.
However, as the book progresses, the main characters become more uninteresting. In the beginning, Eve was a girl confident in her otherness. She refuses to be shaved to appear normal.
I stood in front of the looking-glass and admired myself. My moustache wormed across my lip, my ears. My eyebrows met over the bridge of my nose and spread like wings up the side of my forehead. My chin sprouted a beard the colour of combed flax, reaching my little breasts.
The further along the book goes, the meeker she grows under the influence of Professor Arroner. She is in an abusive relationship and it makes sense that her confidence is stripped away, but we don’t see it happen slowly. It’s just sort of there all of a sudden.
That is a big problem with the book. Like in fairy tales, things are just suddenly there and we don’t get to see the process it took to get there. All of a sudden, Eve has the power to see people’s past. All of a sudden, Abel remembers things. All of a sudden, Eve and Abel are in love.
However, the main problem with the book is that all conflicts are resolved way too easily. Throughout the book, it builts towards a climax that never arrives. Chapter by chapter, Professor Arroner and the tattooed man are painted more and more sinister. You wait for him to do something terrible, for a big show-down, for something. Especially as the romance between Eve and Abel slowly grows stronger. But it never happens. All problems are resolved neatly and without any trouble at all.
A beautifully written, very lyrical novel. Unfortunately, it remains flat plot-wise. The book builds up to a climax that never arrives. Instead, all conflicts are easily resolved.