The Troupe: a review

Title: The Troupe
Author: Robert Jackson Bennett
First published: 2012
Language: English
Pages: 485
Rating: 5/5 stars

The Troupe is a book about 16-year-old George Carole. He is an excellent pianist, who is self taught. He grew up with his grandmother in Rinton. His mother died in childbirth and he never knew his father. He does think he knows who his father is, and therefore he runs away to find Hieronomo Silenus, who he thinks is his father. Silenus runs a vaudeville troupe that travels around the US performing in the sticks. George follows his father and tells him who he is. He also tells Silenus that he is in danger and Silenus realizes he needs to keep George around and so George comes along. It turns out that Silenus and his troupe aren’t only travelling around to perform, they are running from something. They are trying to keep the Darkness at bay, by singing the First Song, thus bringing color back into the world. The Darkness is represented by people who look like men, but who are actually just Darkness given a form, and they are referred to as wolves by Silenus. The First Song needs to be found in hidden places and the wolves seem to be closing in on them.

George Carole – George is 16 years old, from Rinton. He grew up with his grandmother because his mother died in childbirth and his father ran off. George is a pianist who ran away when he was 16 to play the vaudeville circuit. He is an exceptional piano player and the book starts just as he is leaving the theater he’s playing at. I think what is interesting about George is that he is very unlikeable, but I still sort of rooted for him. He learned how to play piano on his own and he is very good at it, and because he has played in small theatres he is spoiled and expects to be treated like a genius wherever he goes.

George’s main purpose is to try and find his father, which he assumes is Hieronomo Silenus, a man who was in his hometown about nine-ish months before George was born. He quits his job because he finds out Silenus is performing in the neighboring town. When he goes to join his father he feels like he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves so he acts out and messes up deliberately. When he is punished for this he doesn’t really realize that he has done something wrong. He also seems to think that he deserves Colette’s love, even though she has not given any indication that she likes him.

And for some reason I still like him. I think it’s because he’s young, and he somehow manages to get into a lot of trouble, and he slowly, but surely he grows and he becomes a kinder, better person, he takes responsibility. It’s also a very sympathetic drive in him that what he wants is to find, and become close to, his father. It makes him more likeable, because it makes him into a very believable orphan I think. He seems to lose his constant need for people to tell him how awesome he is, which is nice. And he loses this asshole behavior he aims at Colette, where he thinks he’s a genius. I like him.

Colette – Colette is the Troupe’s dancer. She is a prima ballerina who does a dancing routine. Colette is tall, muscular and beautiful. She is quite bossy, she deals with all money matters and tends to yell at Silenus for spending money. She seems to like George in a little-brother way and does not reciprocate his feelings for her. Colette is technically half black, half white, but because it is set in the early 1900s they pretend she is Persian royalty. She is a badass princess when she puts on her princess persona, but it is clear that she is angry at how the world would treat her if they knew. She seems so tough and hard, and then she has this sweet, hurt, vulnerable center, and I like her so much.

Hieronomo Silenus – is the weird troupe leader. He does the intro and he comperes the acts. He is a bit weird, and cool. Not trying to reveal the whole plot, but they are essentially trying to find a song to hold back the darkness that is consuming the world. Silenus has started to focus more and more on finding the whole song, and not on performing the song, so they can keep the darkness back. He has been hunting the song for a very long time.

Silenus is a weird combination of very honest, and a very skilled liar. He seems very honest about who he is, and what kind of person he is, which is obviously nice. At the same time there is a big lie, which I won’t reveal because it would sort of spoil everything, and the small ones to keep his troupe going. I think the word would be pragmatic. He does what he has to so that his troupe will survive and so they can find the song, and at the same time he doesn’t really make excuses for who he is.

The other characters are obviously very important as well, but I feel like writing about Stanley especially would be very spoiler-heavy, so I'll leave off Kingsley, Franny and Stanley, they are all brilliant and badass.

What I thought
I loved this book, which is exciting, it was a complete impulse buy when I was in the Helsinki airport. I like the weird world that Bennett created. I liked how completely unlikeable the characters are, George and Silenus in particular, but the writing and plot made you want to keep going. Bennett seems to know magic or something, he just keeps you writing, it’s annoying, or brilliant. I think I’ll have to find some more of his books. This isn’t the most coherent, because I don’t exactly know how to review without gushing, but I did love it. I think it was excellent, and I recommend it. I think Bennett might be magical. I think the most impressive thing is that even though it’s sort of a fairytale, with a troupe travelling around trying to stop Darkness taking over, and fairies and magic being involved he still made it seem quite believable, which is quite a feat I’d say. Brava.