Author: Jostein Gaarder (Translater by James Anderson)
Published: March 27th 2012 by Phoenix
Panina Manina, a trapeze artist, falls and breaks her neck. As the ringmaster bends over her, he notices an amulet of amber around her neck, the same trinket he had given his own lost child, who was swept away in a torrent some sixteen years earlier.
This tale is narrated by Petter, a precocious child and fantasist, and perhaps Jostein Gaarder’s most intriguing character since Sophie. As an adult, Petter makes his living selling stories and ideas to professionals suffering from writer’s block. But as Petter sits spinning his tales, he finds himself in a trap of his own making.
I just hate and love it when a story ends in a cliffhanger. I love it because it allows me to imagine all sorts different continuations to that ending. On the other hand, I hate it because it doesn’t let me know if my assumptions and imaginings were correct. That’s the final feeling I got from The Ringmaster’s Daugther.
The tale of Panina Manina is essentially at the core of the book; it wasn’t evident at first but nearing the middle of the book, the seemingly simple tale of the ringmaster’s daughter begins to relate to the main story that is the life of Petter. Beginning in the fifties and slowly working up from that age, Petter narrates the story of his life, or what he remembers was his life. I loved how he described his memory as made up of recalled fantasy and recalled reality; both of which is mixed up. That much is evident in his narration as the line between fantasy and reality was rather blurred in his recollections.
Petter seemed so real that I almost make the mistake of actually taking his narration as truth. At the start of his narration and thereon after, he jumps from one timeline to another, from when he was eight years old to when he was twelve years old. He moved seamlessly from the present back to his past. It gave of the impression as when someone is seated in front of me, telling me of their past, starting from their earliest memories and then moving on from there, occasionally recalling something that occurred much earlier and jumping back just to talk about it.
Petter’s life is made up primarily of three women and each narration of the tale of Panina Manina is told to each woman at different times of his life. Throughout the whole book, a few other tales were spun by Petter and I couldn’t help but feel that each story he told held a piece of his soul in them. He was no author, but like all storytellers, there was a piece of him in each story he thought up.
Set in Norway at first, The Ringmaster’s Daughter takes on a whimsical tone and yet it does not hide the grotesque either. The book addresses the changes that come with the different times. Petter experienced how times had changed from the fifties till the seventies; how the radio gave way to the much more modern television. He described the changes he’d seen and felt with perfect clarity and detail.
In my opinion, Petter is a genius. That was my very first impression of him and although he made a few mistakes along the way, that impression stuck till the very end of the book. However, I felt that Petter was too detached from the people around him, no matter how much he like to think that he is able to understand the society. It took awhile before he finally came around to the conclusion that he wanted to live like other normal humans.
Petter’s occupation of committing his imaginations and plots on paper before selling them to other authors is one-of-a-kind and one that is rather enticing to me. Now, if only my mind is bursting with inspirations and ideas original enough. Petter reminded me of Sherlock Holmes due to both of their singular talents. Other than that, I notice a subtle similarity at one particular point of The Ringmaster’s Daughter to that of The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Ringmaster’s Daughter. The story can both be read straightforwardly or it can be read with the intention to dig more deeply into the story. In the end, the book wasn’t only about the ringmaster’s daughter and Petter, it was also about the world through the eyes of a person who prefers to stand outside of all influence and see it as it is.