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Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Nights at the Circus (original 1984; edition 1994)

by Angela Carter

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2,214394,418 (3.96)1 / 275
Title:Nights at the Circus
Authors:Angela Carter
Info:Vintage (1994), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:women, fairy tale, historical

Work details

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter (1984)

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    the_awesome_opossum: Nights at the Circus was an inspiration for Ellen Bryson. Both novels are set in a circus and feature beautiful but intimidating women with some unorthodox gender dynamics. Also, both are really really fun reads.
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English (38)  German (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Fantastic! In every sense of the word! ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
A grand, excessive, debauched, lascivious, luxurious, seedy, lavish, vulgar, generous romp of a novel.

Reading it gives me the feeling I get from big swing/jazz bands when the trumpets do that big overblown dirty warble. Here, Carter again upends the traditional aspects of fairytales, gender roles, and sexuality, bringing to life a rich layered world of possibilities. The three-part structure can be jarring in its transition, with the momentum slowly petering out in the last part. However, Carter's masterful deployment of all her dashing turns of phrases and incredible vocabulary make part one a fevered powerhouse in the art of storytelling.

A textual burlesque. ( )
3 vote kitzyl | Dec 10, 2018 |
A remarkable work of the imagination and magical realism, "Nights at the Circus" is one of my favourite novels, and one I can always turn to to remind me that writing is an artform of limitless possibility.

The characters and setting are rich and vibrant and, while I don't particularly enjoy fantasy or sci-fi works, Carter's world here is like that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez: anything is possible, but what happens always seems hauntingly, and depressingly, real. The difference between this and a Marquez work is that our protagonist is a reporter from the equally real world of fin-de-siecle England who finds himself unable to ascertain the boundaries between reality and fantasy. I acknowledge that not everyone will "get it", although I think that is BECAUSE there is nothing to get. This isn't a book with one meaning to be found on the last page, nor a book in which the fantastic elements are hiding some kind of comment on the 'real world'. This is instead a work of boundless beauty and effervescent figures living in an historical era, as all historical eras are: filled - or so it seems from our viewpoint - with possibility and impossibility. What it means, if anything, is for us to open our eyes to the world, even if - at the end of the day - seeing won't necessarily mean believing. Anything is possible but nothing is as it seems. Accept the confusion, relish it, and live amongst it. Or that's what I think, anyway. ( )
1 vote therebelprince | Oct 30, 2018 |
To be honest, I can barely recall this one (so have given it 3 stars. If I really liked it, I'd remember, if it was really disappointing, I'd remember). I do remember the main character was called "Fevvers" and had wings, so it seemed to me that she'd been named by someone with a speech impediment and meant to called her "Feathers" instead. Reading the plot summary on Wikipedia brings nothing back, but as I'm unlikely to read this again, this review is as good as it gets.

(And if you haven't read Angela Carter before, she's usually terrific--read The Bloody Chamber and decide if you like her). ( )
1 vote ashleytylerjohn | Sep 19, 2018 |
' "I do think, myself," I added, "that a girl should shoot her own rapists." '

In "Nights at the Circus" by Angela Carter

Then I thought about it from a different angle. This is a novel written by someone who very strongly holds political and social views, for sure, and a novel which reflects those views in its themes and story, but is it really a Political Novel in the didactic/polemic/instructional sense?

I believe a lot of Carter's writing draws on fantasy and horror traditions; I first encountered her writing via a collection of fairy-tales and folklore and coming in that way to her own fiction meant I was completely fine with abusive puppeteers, winged women and panopticons in the tundra. It's a fantasy and horror world informed by the author's feminism, (arguably in the vein of the very earliest horror-feminism à la Maria, or The Wrongs of Woman et al) and I can't help but think considering it in comparison to, say, Atwood's “The Handmaid's Tale”. Atwood's novel is “mittelmässig”, but I would consider it a book in the "usual" dystopian-activist mould; it creates an imagined oppressive world and depicts oppression to make you stand up and want to do something.

Perhaps that's a reductive reading of a very good novel, but the idea I want to get across is that there's a body of political genre fiction that very plainly states what's wrong and what should be avoided and resisted. “Nights at the Circus” isn't that, and isn't interested in being that. It's depicting a strange world and the women and men within it - it puts across without lecturing what the author believes about feminism, but I don't really feel it a call to action.

I think the most obvious artefact of Carter's feminism is the upending of traditional fairy-tale gender roles. Heroines get the better of big bad wolves, and mothers arrive to save the damsel in place of dashing princes. Carter is essentially offering an alternative, more diverse storytelling legacy... rewriting literary history if you like.

I agree that “The Handmaid's Tale” is sort of activism-by-fiction. Actually, so is "The Blind Assassin". Clickbait as novel almost: you read it to be angered and appalled and come away with a difficult-to-justify sense of injustice. You read Carter with a sense of wonder, barely noticing that anything political has even been proposed, let alone achieved. She was always seen as a contradiction and hence she is able to shine a light on what is perceived and actually show us what is real. Even Edmund Gordon’s biography is titled “The Invention of Angela Carter”. It's quite hard to reconcile how Carter writes with how she apparently came across in public.

Here she wrote three different books in a single volume, each one with its own themes and characteristics. Even the form changes: the first part is basically a dialogue between Fevvers and Lizzie; the second displays a more classic third-person narration; the last is interspersed with clutches of text from Fevvers' point of view. My gripes were with the Siberian act. There's not so much humour, the narrative is way less baroque, the events seem more unconnected and the overall tone is too serious, although paradoxically this is the section that relies more clearly on fairy-tale devices. There are moments the story feels kind of botched, to be honest. But the fantasy elements largely make up for any downsides, and there's a couple of U-turns in the plot that are simply ingenious.

Some contemporary SF women writers could learn one or two things with Carter. ( )
1 vote antao | Aug 25, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Carter, Angelaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Castagnone, Maria GiuliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Lor' love you, sir!' Fevvers sang out in a voice that clanged like dustbin lids.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Is Sophie Fevvers, toast of Europe's capitals, part swan...or all fake? Courted by the Prince of Wales and painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, she is an aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity. Dazzled by his love for her, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser has no choice but to join the circus on its magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.

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