The Circus is Coming (by Noel Streatfeild)

I like reading children's fiction, from time to time, and have always enjoyed Noel Streatfeild's novels. I happened to be sorting out some books on my shelves when I came across this one, and picked it up to see how it started. Before long I was hooked...

I first read 'The Circus is Coming', more recently re-titled as 'Circus Shoes', in 2000. But I'd pretty much forgotten it. It's the story of Peter and Santa, an orphaned brother and sister who live with their rather strict and snobbish aunt. It's set, I suppose, in the middle of the 20th century.

When the aunt dies, it looks as though the children may have to be sent to ophanages. So they decide to go and find their uncle Gus, the black sheep of the family. What they hadn't realised is that he's an artiste in a circus. It all seems a bit unlikely, somehow. Would children really have been brought up in such extreme circumstances, ignorant of not just their uncle, but of their parents and grandparents? Would their local tutors and friends have been entirely unaware of any other family? I doubt it, somehow.

Still, it makes for a good start to the story. I was, however, unimpressed that Streatfeild felt that being educated at home was a bad idea, and that any children would be better off in school.

The book is basically about Peter and Santa learning to put aside some of their snooty ideas, and becoming friendly with the circus folk. Some of it seems very old-fashioned, but on the whole it's an enjoyable read. The characterisation isn't as good as in many others by this author, and - a little to my surprise - I found I was copmaring it rather unfavourably with Enid Blyton's circus series, which begins with 'Mr Galliano's Circus'. In general, I feel that Noel Streatfeild was a considerably better writer than Enid Blyton. But somehow Blyton's circus characters seem a lot more alive.

As with so many of Streatfeild's novels, the ending of 'The Circus is Coming' is satisfying, albeit predictable, but also happens rather abruptly with a big climax in the last few pages, then a resolution - and no more.

Not bad for a low-key read over a day or two, but not my favourite Noel Streatfeild by a long way.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 3rd September 2009

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