Reviewed by: Keith Nixon
Genre: General Fiction/Coming of Age
Approximate word count: 45-50,000 words
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Kate Rigby studied psychology although she is no longer able to work due to ill health. She has been writing for more than thirty years. Most of her works have been published over this time. Flamingo Circus, originally published in 1988, has been brought back into circulation.
You can learn more about the author on her blog.
Flamingo Circus is written as a first person diary starting when Lauren Schanzer is seven in 1968, it sporadically follows her growth through childhood, teenage rebellion and maturity in 1983.
Lauren hasn’t had the best start in life - abject poverty, a large and growing family and an abusive father – she struggles to make her mark in life. Until punk arrives. Lauren marches out into the world…
I thoroughly enjoyed Flamingo Circus. It is largely set in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when punk swept through the UK. I was nine years old then so I remember some of it, however Rigby captures the punk subculture, and in particular Lauren’s own feeling of release from her restrictive upbringing, very well. It’s one of the strong points of the story.
At times, the descriptive writing was excellent. The characters are generally strong, in particular Lauren herself and her domineering father. Many other characters come and go, sometimes lightly painted, sometimes deeper depending upon their involvement in Lauren’s life at the time. The sense of place is also very good, particularly when stuck with an abusive boyfriend and in a squat. It was a compelling story and made me want to keep turning the pages. I finished Flamingo Circus in a couple of sittings.
Flamingo Circus also captures Lauren’s experiences of a poor upbringing as part of a large and ever expanding family, her domineering father and the lack of prospects that comes from a wasted education. It’s bleak stuff.
An example of some of the writing:
Inside it’s less gloomy than the blackened dried-blood brick world outside. This is a typical bedsit. All the flats in this house have the same gaudy repetitive wallpaper over the kitchenette. I have glimpsed inside them all. The carpet is psychedelic too. Looks as if it’s crawling with insects when it’s really your brain making the patterns dance.
I like the wet street. The green and red and white traffic and car lights all run into each other, like a child’s painting.
As a result of her father Lauren struggles with relationships. The couple of boyfriends she has are much like him, there’s an inevitability of a downward spiral towards domestic violence. For example:
I can’t bear him to sleep so easily when I’m so restless. I bounce and pinch and scratch and shriek. I put the kitchen taps on full pelt til he wakes. He has started to hit me. I knew he would – it was just a question of when. I expect him to. I know now that he cares about me.
Lauren thankfully manages to escape her abusive relationship, sneaking out at night. I really felt with her as she crept out of the bedsit and started another phase of her life.
I also liked that as Lauren developed so did her spelling and prose. As a seven year old it was unsurprisingly poor. Her education wasn’t great so neither was her sentence construction. However, as she moves out into the world, reads and experiences new people, books and music her writing becomes smoother. This was another very good way of putting over Lauren’s background.
My only issue with the book, and it’s a small one, was the ending. It just sort of…happened. Lauren’s life didn’t seem resolved in any way. However, I guess diaries do just do that, one day you’re writing one, the other you’re not. This, though, is a personal view. I like stories to close off.
A really good read, in particular for people who have memories of the era.
Some adult situations.
Rating: **** Four Stars