Author: Robert Hough
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Pages: 422
Date Published: 2001
5-Star Rating: 4
Would you recommend it?: Yes
I am always attracted to books with a captivating cover. I know, I know, one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But I always do. Sometimes this tendency has led me astray, but more often than not, promising covers have led to rewarding reads. The Final Confession of Mabel Stark is one such novel. Reminiscent of old circus posters from the 1920s, the circus’s golden age, the cover features bright colors and bold graphics. In the center: a petite blonde in thigh-high boots and an ornate jacket directs a lineup of at least six tigers, all of which are double her size. They look ferocious with their mouths open wide and their claws bared. Who wouldn’t pick up this enchanting book?
A more fitting cover could not have been made for this novel as it captures all of the story’s major elements. The Final Confession of Mabel Stark is the story of the greatest female tiger trainer of all time, Mabel Stark. The novel covers the entirety of Mabel’s life, from her early circus days in the 1910s until her death in 1968, and all her husbands in between. Mabel married a whopping five times. However, her relationships with her beloved tigers always came first.
Brave and brazen, yet still insecure and lonely, Mabel is a fascinating character. Making her easy to relate to and even easier to love, Robert Hough mesmerizes his readers with his depiction of Mabel’s charisma and strength, just as she mesmerized her fans in the big tops so long ago. Not only does Mabel’s character come alive in this novel, so too do the characters of her many husbands. We meet all of them, each one as unique and eccentric as the last.
The circus age also comes alive in The Final Confession of Mabel Stark, with all the colorful side characters one would expect out of a circus story, and maybe even a few one wouldn’t. I found myself looking up facts and further historic details in between chapters, enamored of the rich and exciting world Robert Hough has crafted. Although Hough’s bountiful imagination makes this novel an entertaining read, his skills as a researcher and biographer are equally as impressive. The research notes he includes at the end of the novel are almost as entertaining as the story itself. He plainly lays out the historical facts within the book and draws attention to the areas in which he took liberties. From my own research, I found that most of the novel aligns quite well with the true events.
The only flaw I can see with this text is the length. It can drag in some parts and at 422 pages it is definitely a commitment. However, the richness of the story and the characters within it make up for that extra weight in your backpack.
Review by Brittany Duncan, A&S '16