The Troupe is the best new novel I’ve listened to this year – let’s get that out of the way from the start. There are several other books I want to hit before the end of the year, and I’ll be the first to say that what I have listened to is hardly comprehensive of all the amazing books that have come out over the past 12 months. That said, I can confidently say that The Troupe is one of those books that I didn’t want to end, was genuinely sad when it was over, and am very much looking forward to listening to again. It called to mind Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, along with Ray Bradbury, and a dash of Stephen King.
Ever since I first heard about Robert Jackson Bennett’s The Troupe I was intrigued, although I’d be hard-pressed to tell you exactly why. At the time, I hadn’t read anything else by Bennett, and only knew the briefest plot summary – a young man joins a Vaudeville troupe, and discovers the players are harboring a magical secret. That blur of plot is fitting, considering that in the story itself, everyone who sees Heironomo Silenus’s performance can’t remember anything about it, other than a vague sense that they liked it. Well, unlike Silenus’s audience, I remember quite a bit about The Troupe, and I can say with utter confidence I absolutely loved every minute of it.
Bennett recreates Vaudeville, and imbues it with a sense of magic that feels both historical and fantastical. Here’s some more about the plot: George, a teenage pianist, has been on the Vaudeville circuit for six months searching for his father’s troupe. All he wants is his father’s acceptance, but when he tracks down the players and begins to unravel the secrets Silenus and his companions carry, he’s plunged into a world of danger and magic beyond his wildest dreams. Because Silenus’s shows seem to have an effect on the very world itself, and there are other entities who’d like to bring down the curtain on it once and for all.
All the different members of the troupe are fully fleshed out, and all deliciously complicated. We meet Franny, the strongwoman; Collette, the beautiful singer and dancer; Kingsley, a bizarre puppeteer; and Stanley – Silenus’s mute right hand-man. Finally, there’s Silenus himself – a master showman who claims he’s been alive for centuries. They all have secrets of their own, as well as ambitions, and it’s a delight to spend time with them on the road, and to be surprised by their startling revelations. Knowing what I know now, I can’t wait to go back to it and watch their secrets and twists unfold all over again.
Luis Moreno does a magnificent job of bringing Bennett’s characters to life. I hadn’t heard him read before, and he delivers a subtle reading that manages to give Silenus’s voice a sense of charismatic showmanship, while making George’s a naive, sometimes arrogant teenager, and hits the right notes for all the characters in between. There were a few times in the production where odd pauses fell unexpectedly into the story, which was a little jarring – I’d occasionally look at my iPod to see if it had stopped playing. But all in all, Moreno’s reading is a real treat, and only adds more charm to this already fantastic and riveting story.
The Troupe is a must-listen, a book that will charm, thrill, and give you chills, and once it wraps up, you’ll want to do the whole thing all over again.