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Nights at the Circus

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  7,001 Ratings  ·  520 Reviews
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 desp
Paperback, 295 pages
Published March 4th 1986 by Penguin Books (first published September 27th 1984)
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Richard Derus
Sep 04, 2013 Richard Derus rated it it was amazing
Book Circle Read 15

The Publisher Says: 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
Jul 06, 2016 Fionnuala rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed-in-2012
Reviewed in September 2012
There are many aspects of the bizarre world of this book that I admire even though it took me a while to get hooked by the story. I was ready to abandon it anytime during the first fifty pages until I came across a remark to the effect that for those who have never seen a match, striking one must seem like magic.
Then I understood something of what Carter was trying to do. She implies that since we don't know everything about the mysteries of the natural world, a lot of
Angela Carter's world is, as always, a dirty, earthy, erotic, yet soaringly ethereal place to spend one's time. It is as hard to capture the essence of her tone and her outlook as it is to exactly pin down all of her insightful commentary, as wrapped up in velvet and hidden by veils of fairy dust as they can be. Her earthy, body based, yet highly intellectual feminism is my favorite. Carter makes me feel the pain of and rejoice in the awesomeness of being a woman all at once, and I really connec ...more
Feb 10, 2011 Miriam rated it liked it
Shelves: victorian
Prose - 5 Awesome and fascinating. If only I actually cared about what she was saying.

Story - 3 Strangely less interesting than one would expect winged Victorian harlots to be.

Characters - 2 Em. Kudos for originality & development, but aside from me caring not a jot about them they had a strangely constructed feel.

Aside from being extremely impressed by Carter's writing I didn't care for the book, but I'm definitely willing to try something else of hers.
Well this is probably as much fun as can be had reading, for me anyway. I surrender utterly to the allure of Fevvers; I believed every wonderful word of her story and every page of it yielded some new pleasure to my feminist consciousness. The portrayal of a group of sex-workers (and ridicule of their would-be self-appointed saviours) seemed particularly well-observed to me. On the level of the symbolic, fill yer boots. On the level of prose, this is as extravagantly creative and exuberant as it ...more
Nate D
Jan 11, 2016 Nate D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the uprising preterite
Recommended to Nate D by: stories escaping the dominating narratives of history
Is this Angela Carter's epic? Quiet possibly. It's enormous, majestic, confounding even as fascinating, unwieldy with determination to fill in every backstory that would otherwise go overlooked, poised at the edge of the 20th century and so encompassing all of its bitter disillusion. The breadth of characters and otherwise passed-over stories-within-stories rivals Pynchon, as does the way that in which both interrogate reality in earnest through application of elaborate systems of meaning in whi ...more
Sep 09, 2013 Zorena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fantasy, 1001
I'm surprised that I took no notes while reading this book. I have a feeling it was because I came so en-rapt in Sophie's tale I forgot all else. Isn't that the point of a good book? Did I say this book is good? Well I will now. This book is good!

From the start you wonder if her story really is true when she claims to have been hatched but soon you realize there is something strange going on. Like the reporter, Jack Walser you could swear that you've been listening all night until the clock stri
Verdict: Three rings of fractured fairy tales, barely believable characters and fables fallen through the looking glass. ‘Night’s at the Circus’ is too clever by half, too bad it knows it.

‘Nights at the Circus’ came to me immediately recommended, which is to say the girl at Waterstones gushed over when I brought it to the counter. Generally I do not care for it when shop staff accost me with unsolicited conversation because I am, to use the medical terminology, “painfully awkward.” I don’t mind
Jun 28, 2012 Rob rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Rob by: John
When I read Angela Carter, I imagine her as the literary grandmother to someone like Kelly Link. There's an eccentric tone of fantasy, an unabashed outlandishness and roguish word-play; there's a thread of challenge running through the narrative, sometimes cleverly concealed and sometimes out in front like so much gaudy embroidery. Carter is a master storyteller with a remarkable gift for language and a willingness to take risks on any front.

But all of the above I already knew from my introducti
Jul 08, 2014 James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'“The child’s laughter is pure until he first laughs at a clown.”'
In 2012, the 'Best of James Tait Black' culled together its tributes from the past near-century, and declared Angela Carter's novel, Nights at the Circus, the best fiction novel out of its history of winners - and therefore, as the novel of the century. Wonderfully fitting for a novel which masks itself on the chaotic cusp of the twentieth-century, where time begins to fall into a state of gaudy entropy; thus Nights at the Circu
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
I was delightfully surprised that I liked this gothic, magical realism type of novel where the principal protagonist is a tall, long-haired, round-faced woman WITH WINGS. Usually, plots like this, including those in science fiction, would be too heavy a task for me to appreciate because I have this little devil inside my ear who, as I read, continuously whispers to me not true, invented, can't ever happen, just pulling your leg, you're wasting your time, better read others, etc.

Add to these is t
Magic and reading have something in common. It’s that thin wedge that question of what is real and what is fantasy. We know that the magician is doing some trick, but we just can’t get it, can’t figure it out. With books, good ones at least, the trick is the writing taking you someplace else. Books aren’t the only thing that can do this – a good movie, painting, music.
It’s this line between reality and fantasy that Carter explores in this novel about a circus performer who may actually have re
Apr 30, 2011 Elise rated it it was ok
In typical Angela Carter fashion, "Nights at the Circus" appeals to our baser human instincts by attempting to shock us with freaks, incest, cannibalism, and excrement. The whole time I was reading it, I called it my albatross. Since I had gotten past page 50 (every book gets a 50 page chance from me) due to the book's, at times, lyrical and surreal beauty, I felt violated by so much ugliness in the book's second half. But by then, I had to finish it. It took me an entire month to read this nove ...more
Aug 26, 2016 Fabian rated it liked it
(Spoilers!) In the same fantastical circuit as the 1001 Arabian Nights, it is set in a real palette of colors--it's like seeing a Toulouse Lautrec through tears. Carter's brand of magic realism swirled in with comical, cheerful anecdotes is by and large delightful. There is a woman trapeze artist that may be a swan, a tiger attack, and a train derailment. That's the plot. Also, I remember an atrociously charming story about a Thumbelina-like creature with eyes for nipples. Yup. Call it, an adult ...more
lynne naranek
Nov 18, 2007 lynne naranek rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2007
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 20, 2011 Algernon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2011
excellent fable of humanity mixing feminism with picaresque adventure. Memorable characters, excellent use of language, humor, adventure, philosophy, militancy, kindness, grotesque tableaux vivants, introspection and ultimately love.
Strongly recommended
Sep 30, 2016 Uday rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For me it was, more than anything else, a case of words versus images.

Somewhere in the first twenty pages, our heroine after so enchantingly delighting the audience to her performance, does an act-an act that would've been so ghastly indecent to the typical Victorian. . "Better out than in, Sir" - she says to the narrator set out to inscribe her identity, and lets a ripping fart ring around the room. After a taste of her as an image, an icon, "the aerialiste", the reader should not forget her bo
Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter is apparently a classic. It has many spectacular scenes and Carter's usual surrealism. It plays itself out like a fabulous carnival.

I've enjoyed other works of Angela Carter: The Magic Toyshop, The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, and Burning Your Boats. Maybe I can't imaginatively sustain Carter's wild surrealism for a full-length novel. But despite some wonderful moments in the story of Sophie Fevvers' trapeze fame as a woman with full-size wings and the
Althea Ann
Feb 05, 2013 Althea Ann rated it really liked it
I feel like I should've read this before reading either 'The Night Circus' or 'Mechanique' - and I feel like now I've got a better background in surrealist circus fiction.

I have to admit, I didn't love this book as much as I loved 'The Night Circus' - but I think it's probably a better work of literature. There's a lot here to think about; it's rich and complex.

On the surface, it's the story of Fevvers - a circus star, a winged woman with a trapeze act, who decides to tell her story - fact or fi
Paul Secor
Feb 22, 2016 Paul Secor rated it liked it
When I was 13 years old, I went to a traveling circus with a friend who was a year older than I and his family. When we walked in, we passed a somewhat nerdy teenage kid who was wearing glasses and was sitting on a railing. For whatever reason, he called my friend a mama's boy, and my friend wanted to go at him. I convinced my friend to let it go and he did. Later, during the circus show, the nerdy kid, minus his glasses and looking much less nerdy, appeared in the ring and proceeded to do an ac ...more
Sep 24, 2011 Josephine rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Don't read this book if you don't like two bit words or truly independent women, the ones who like men but don't need them for much of anything. Nights at the Circus doesn't do anything by halves, whether it's description or detail.

The nineteenth century is coming to a close, with all the fevered hothouse passion of an era using up the last of itself before it runs out of time. As the book begins, a seemingly nonchalant young reporter is interviewing "Fevvers", an aerialiste who may or may not
Dec 10, 2010 Katya rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Ok, I admit, at first, the book started a little too heavily for me. The first third is dedicated to Fevvers telling her life story to Walser, entertaining the press, as she put it, and of course it was constructed in a way that was supposed to entertain the obvious - full of long words, rampant exclamations. Much like Sophi, it was boisterous, emotional, overblown. But that style died as soon as it was time for Carter's economic, elegant narration.

Weird way to start a review? Here's why - autho
Emmanuelle Maupassant
If ever a story defied categorisation and deconstruction, here it sits!

Luxuriously lyrical and peopled by a huge cast of cacophonous eccentrics, such that the reader cannot begin to keep track of each one, it is as if Angela Carter went to every length to make her tale as chaotic and exceptionally unbelievable as possible. Above all else, it celebrates the ridiculous and the unexplainable, the surreal and the dazzlingly grotesque.

Here is evidence that plot need not follow a clear arc, and that
Nov 26, 2010 Andrea rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf, mystery-noir
Darkly fantastic, phrases of pure brilliance, mysterious and raunchy and beautiful by turns...I've never been much for circus tales, but the question of a woman with wings walking the line between human and bird? Oh yes. And she is glorious, beautiful, larger than life, greedy and bawdy and compassionate. In the hands of a man Fevvers would have been yet another man-eater, all devouring succubus, but this is told from the point of view of a woman. A hell of a woman. And it is not her that men su ...more
Feb 23, 2011 Padraigj rated it really liked it
If ever a novel deserved to be read again its this. Exuberant, theatrical prose that at many times dazzled you to the point it was a chore to read, and defied comprehension of content. Carter is the most cerebral fantasist I've ever read, and there's a reason she's very much a part of the canon of contemporary authors. This feminist, pro-sexual, extended metaphor masquerading as a novel is a celebration of women's sexuality, and also a few sheets shy of being a anti-capitalist critique. But its ...more
Aug 13, 2015 Baz rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I give this a 2.5 rating. This novel had me questioning my rating system; I couldn't figure out what to give it. 2? That seemed unfair because there is a clear intelligence in this book, a complex structure, a lot of themes and ideas running through, and some quite good prose. But then do I give it a 3 and put it alongside fiction I took a lot more pleasure in reading? That seemed unfair to those other books. Are ratings about enjoyability, or opinion of the quality of the book? I always thought ...more
I like looking back and seeing how much my taste has changed. I remember a few years ago I proclaimed loudly that if Jane Austen was the author of my twenties Edith Wharton was perched to be the author of my thirties, along with red wine and watching the Wire. Though, Ms Wharton is still in my top five of people I want to be when I grow up, I mean who doesn't to be a recluse in Paris, but Angela Carter seems to be taking that role, and Carter goes really well with red wine. As I read more I more ...more
Jan 29, 2009 Jan rated it it was amazing
A wonderful postmodern, magical realist romp through the fin-de-siecle in England and Russia, with a couple of American characters thrown in for good measure. It's a wild story about a bird-woman, involving a brothel, a circus,an evil sorcerer, a good Marxist household witch, Russian bandits, murderesses, a Siberian shaman, and lots of attractions between and within the sexes. The writing's beautiful and witty. Be prepared to look up a few delicious words. Literary allusions abound, including se ...more
Nikolay Nikiforov
Feb 08, 2016 Nikolay Nikiforov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the fourth Angela Carter’s book I’ve read and I think I finally get her secret. Just as there are great singers with weak voices (Mabel Mercer, Peggy Lee, David Bowie), Angela Carter is a great writer without a natural talent. She has no ‘negative capability’, she doesn’t know how to use the ‘pauses’, how to do much with little. All of her books are overwritten, there’s always an effort on display, always a sense of control-freakishness.
But for all that, her books are good, each one bet
Aug 29, 2007 Lin rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone!
Shelves: owned
I loved this book! The setting (a circus around 1900) is awesome and feels nice and grimy, the story is fantastical and thrilling, the characters colourful and entertaining and there are plenty of moments to make you stop and reconsider reality. I love postmodern novels, and I loved this one. I can recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind a little surrealism from time to time!
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Born Angela Olive Stalker in Eastbourne, in 1940, Carter was evacuated as a child to live in Yorkshire with her maternal grandmother. As a teenager she battled anorexia. She began work as a journalist on the Croydon Advertiser, following in the footsteps of her father. Carter attended the University of Bristol where she studied English literature.

She married twice, first in 1960 to Paul Carter. Th
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“The child's laughter is pure until he first laughs at a clown.” 142 likes
“Out of the frying pan into the fire! What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many? No different!” 75 likes
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