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Nights at the Circus Paperback – March 4, 1986
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"An ebullient tall tale . . . spellbinding . . . entrancing." —Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Loud, bawdy, and unabashedly sentimental . . . a wonderfully vital creation." —The New York Times
"Night at the Circus is good, clean fun—well, good fun anyway. Its raunchy moments are steaming, bizarre, at times unsettling, but there is definitely an appreciation here for love, sentiment, and entertainment." —Raymond Mungo, San Francisco Chronicle
"A three-ring extravaganza . . . Carter's brand of fanciful and sometimes kinky feminism has never been more thoroughly or entertainingly on display." —Time
Acclaim for Angela Carter
“Carter produced . . . fiction that was lavishly fabulist and infinitely playful, with a crown jeweler’s style, precise but fully colored. . . . Her books are . . . revered by fans of speculative fiction stateside and have influenced writers as diverse as Rick Moody, Sarah Waters, Neil Gaiman, Jeff VanderMeer, Jeanette Winterson and Kelly Link. Salman Rushdie, who became her friend, described her as ‘the first great writer I ever met.’ Yet her legacy has been a slow and stealthy one, invisible to many of the readers who have benefited from it. . . . Most contemporary literary fiction with a touch of magic, from Karen Russell’s to Helen Oyeyemi’s, owes something to Angela Carter’s trail-blazing. . . . If our personal and literary spaces feel more wide open now, she’s one of the ones we have to thank.” —Laura Miller, Salon
“She writes a prose that lends itself to magnificent set pieces of fastidious sensuality . . . dreams, myths, fairy tales, metamorphoses, the unruly unconscious, epic journeys, and a highly sensual celebration of sexuality in both its most joyous and darkest manifestations.” —Ian McEwan
About the Author
Angela Carter (1940–1992) wrote nine novels and numerous short stories, as well as nonfiction, radio plays, and the screenplay for Neil Jordan's 1984 movie The Company of Wolves, based on her story of the same name. She won numerous literary awards, traveled and taught widely in the United States, and lived in London.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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-- London. This realistic section of the novel introduces the two major characters: Fevvers and Walser. Even in this section time is slippery and some stories about Fevvers don't make sense, but it all seems like a terrific set-up for a fabulous (literally, "fabulous") story.
-- (St.) Petersburg. This is a lengthy description of Colonel Kearney's circus and its performers. Walser joins the troupe and eventually sheds his life as a journalist eventually to become a clown. This section contains a fascinating discussion of clown theory that I'll remember and think about every time I see a clown.
-- Siberia. This section is the least realistic. Events become magical and then outrageous with an impossible collection of coincidences and wild back-stories for the new characters. Carter tries, and almost succeeds, in tying up all the loose ends in the final pages, but it's too late. The novel has swung too far out of control.
The characters are all over-sized and truly carnivalesque:
+ Fevvers– The big, beautiful aerialist (half blonde bombshell, half angel, half bird) who kicks the story off, shifts to the shadows in the middle section, and almost disappears before she tries to tie it all together at the very end.
+ Walser– The US journalist who interviews Fevvers, and then joins the circus to get the truth.
+ Lizzie– Fevvers' adoptive mother and support system, who always knows what to do, sometimes perhaps supernaturally.
+ Madame Schreck– The owner of the freakish whorehouse who originally employs Fevvers.
+ Christian Rosencreutz– The religious maniac who buys Fevvers from Schreck and from whom Fevvers must escape to save her life.
+ Colonel Kearney– The outlandish owner of the circus that employs Fevvers and leads the circus to its final resting place.
+ Sybil– Kearney's absurdly intelligent pet pig that makes Kearney's major decisions.
+ The Princess of Abyssinia– The silent but talented tiger tamer for the circus.
+ Mignon– The absurdly thin young woman who escapes from her abusive husband to work with the Princess of Abyssinia and her tigers.
+ The Strong Man- The traditional muscle-head who unsuccessfully courts Mignon and deals with The Educated Apes.
+ The Professor of The Educated Apes- The leader who parodies academics and appears more human than some of the other acts.
+ Buffo the Great– The head of the clowns who is eventually driven crazy by the clowns and the circus.
+ Olga Alexandrovna– An escaped prisoner who assists the troubled circus performers in Sibera.
+ The Shaman– The spiritual leader who saves Walser and helps him restore his memory in Siberia.
+ The Maestro – The music school teacher who also helps the doomed circus performers in Siberia.
The novel is fun at first, but winds up being mostly for academics. I think that feminists and socialists will have plenty to discuss. The writing itself is brilliant but the plot waivers, especially near the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the setup in the first section and much of the clown and circus discussions in the second section, but felt that Carter lost control of the material by the end, or lost my interest in making sense of the new characters and their resolutions. Still I give it four stars and have thought about the possibilities of the extended metaphor of Fevvers and the circus for more than a week now.