Book Review – The Julius Romeros Extravaganza

The Julius Romeros Extravaganza Part 1, the Bearded Girl
By Hayley Lawson-Smith
Published by ASJ Publishing
Reviewed by Lee J Mavin

This is the debut novel by a young and upcoming, Melbourne based writer Hayley Lawson-Smith but has all the characteristics of a novel written by a well established, seasoned author. It has the authentic feel of some modernist classic like something from Jane Austen, Virginia Wolfe or DH Lawrence, but this delicious novel has a hint of modern humor.
Firstly it is the mere names of the characters, Ingrid Hiffeltrimp,Frederick Luthen-Carter, Doctor Leonard Fobias and Doctor Finnigan Scrub are also a bit overly classic English names.
The book opens with an intriguing and cleverly written introduction, the first sentence is so perfectly crafted ‘One supposes, when a child is born, a parent would expect to see themselves reflected somewhere in that squashed-up, pink and slimy, newborn face.’
That is because the narration in this book is kind of sharing a joke with the reader as it delves into the lives of Abigail and the traveling circus led by Juluis Romeros, the ringmaster.
Abigail was born a little different, which makes the entire plot so original and irresistible. She was born with a full manly beard and her upper class family try everything to hide and remedy, which makes the first couple of chapters hilarious. The Hiffeltrimps have a status in their local community to uphold and having a young bearded toddler (with curls). The secretive and hopeless attempts to remedy young Abigail’s beard. The “professionals” that the family ring in desperately are so obviously fraudulent. My favorite is the Father Montgomery O’Hallohan. He is described as, “He did not look at all like she imagined, probably not even capable of exorcising a rat to the sewers” yet his was called upon to exorcise and dubs the child’s abundance of facial hair as ‘The Devil’s Goatie”
Poor little Abigail’s only hope is her nanny Bertha, but they are separated when the Hiffeltrimps take her away to the circus i.e The Julius Romeros Extravaganza. This is a total change in scenery and adds to the plot some strange and interesting characters. Little Abigail meets the Snake charmer, the Maestro and the all important Reynalda. These weird and classic freak-show type characters kind of make Abigail seem normal at first, but then they find so many similarities.
From there the story takes a few more twists and turns but to give these away would spoil the heart of the novel. I assure you, you will find it really hard to put this book down. This is such an unexpectedly brilliant novel that doesn’t try to hard and unfolds so smoothly. ASJ Publishers have found a diamond in Melbourne here, Hayley Lawson Smith is truly talented and has written a novel that so many will enjoy. I can’t wait to read more from her as this fantastic novel is simply a ‘work of art!’
The Julius Romeros Extravaganza, Part 1, the Bearded Girl

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