First line: "YOU: the most junior reporter at the New York Tribune."
Ruth, Lucy and Anna are a circle of friends who develop an unusual obsession with live-action, role-acting games. Ruth has made this her career passion and is working on a game "Trapped in the Asylum" for the college campus where she is working. Lucy is Ruth's roommate and at first the most reluctant to be involved in these role-acting games. Anna lives down the hall from Lucy and Ruth. She's a Danish sociologist in New York to study cultures of urban exploration and she presents herself as fearless.
When Anna begins to take a special interest in Ruth's games and her brother shows up unexpectedly, the group develops a game around Euripides' tragedy The Bacchae. As the game becomes more intense, the stakes continue to rise.
Ruth explains that the "magic circle" is "just a way of talking about the amoeba-shaped space of play, one that's distinctly demarcated from the ordinary world outside. Whatever happens within the magic circle is fundamentally discontinuous with the external world." But what happens when the magic circle stops being discontinuous and begins to bleed into the external world?
Jenny Davidson has a great underlying concept for her story in this novel. She attempts creative ways of telling the story with unreliable narrators. Her characters are highly intelligent women who become wrapped up in a "game" readers would assume they knew better than to engage in. But this simply illustrates a magnitude that can exist when intelligent people get lost in the energy. Think of the brilliant people who allude the authorities as serial killers or those that take control of their governments and wreak havoc. The young adult book The Wave is a true-life example of how otherwise smart individuals become consumed not only with power but the sense of belonging, the sense of order. And World War II is probably the most mortifying example of it. Davidson seems to be aiming at both a psychological and intellectual game through these characters.
I did not, however, feel that her approach to telling the story created a tight, cohesive plot. I often found myself thinking, "where is she going with this" then never being able to answer the question. And at times I felt the poetic language was weighing down the story instead of moving it along--it looked nice but wasn't functional. The novel itself is not long, coming in at under 200 pages, but I felt there was a significant amount that could have been cut without damaging the heart of the story.
One of my aims when I read a novel is to figure out what I believe the author's goal was with the story. I don't think I was able to fully realize this in The Magic Circle. And that may be my fault as a reader--possibly having expectations that I should not have--and it may be Davidson's fault as the writer in not making that recognizable. The only real judge for that is other readers. This wasn't a book that blew my skirt up, but it may be just your cup of tea.
My review is part of the TLC Blog Tour. You can get an idea of what the other readers on the tour thought of The Magic Circle. The full schedule is listed here.
The Magic Circle is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0544028098) from New Harvest and an unabridged audiobook version (ISBN: 978-1469282855), narrated by Emily Beresford from Brilliance Audio.
Disclosure: In recent months I have begun doing some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work does not involve this tour or any other tour I would agree to a part of here at the blog. Nor does my work with them obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.