Skip to content

Spangle by Gary Jennings (1988)

In 1989, aged 13, I came first in my class in school and was asked to choose a book to receive at prizegiving. The pickings, as I recall, were not rich. I selected a hardback edition of Spangle by Gary Jennngs, primarily because it appeared to have lots and lots of pages and so was the best value for money available. (Plus, I remember thinking, if I didn’t like the actual book it would be thick enough to cut a space inside as a super-sekret book safe.)

Twenty-one years later I finally read it. It’s about a travelling carnival that moves from the post-Civil War U.S. to roam all over Europe. Some ex-soldiers join up, and then as it travels about other people join up, or leave, or die, or get married. That’s the whole book summed up for you. Lots happens, but not much goes on.

This is not a well-written book. The prose is leaden, the plotting is forced and telegraphed, the characterisation is close to nonexistent. The author’s copious research is painfully evident, with all his characters happily citing facts to each other. (“Did you know, John, that…”)

Nevertheless it was a happy-enough diversion. I made my way through the 800+ pages almost entirely by reading a few pages to wake my brain up before getting out of bed each morning. The author had clearly researched the dickens out of this thing, and it was a pleasant way to encounter lots of trivia about the lives of travelling carnivals and everyday life in the late 1800s.

Also notable: the fact that if my 13-year-old self had actually read this book, he would have been able to write his own cheque at school, for this gigantic tome is extensively salted with sex scenes involving a wide variety of participants. (In those pre-internet days, you worked with what you had.)

Indeed, Gary Jennings was known for his mix of research and sex scenes – trying to find out about him after finishing the book I stumbled on an account by some archaeologists who both queried some of his research and appreciated his enthusiastically pulpy titillation. Certainly the most sexually explicit book given out as a school prize that year. So in that sense, and that sense alone, I call this a belated win.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Andrew (Bartok) | September 27, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    “In those pre-internet days, you worked with what you had.”

    Which is what made Timewyrm: Genesys and Ben Aaronovich’s Transit all the more exciting.

    At the time.

    (and just wait until you get to mention of Ace’s nipples in Cat’s Cradle: Warhead…)

  2. The Alligator | September 27, 2010 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Imagine if you had read that, and cashed in on the untold riches….you may have ended up a carney!

  3. Karen | September 27, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    At 13 (and older)… possibly even in 1989 which was my 1st year of uni, I skipped over the sex scenes in books because they embarrassed me too much! Ah the benefits of Christian Youth Group.