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Nights at the Circus

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  4,793 ratings  ·  346 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...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 4th 1986 by Penguin Books (first published September 27th 1984)
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Community Reviews

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Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
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...more
Fionnuala
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...more
Miriam
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.
Kelly
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
Zorena
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...more
Rob
Jun 28, 2012 Rob rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
James
'“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 Circus...more
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...more
lynne naranek
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elise
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
Katya
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...more
Padraigj
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
Chris
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...more
Algernon
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
Kaph
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...more
Andrea
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
Jan
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
Lisa
4.5 really...

All Cockney but definitely no sparrow, Fevvers in instead part-woman, part-swan. Hatched from an egg, abandoned on a doorstep, and raised in a bordello, Fevvers has grown up to be the world’s greatest aerialiste. Listening to her tall tale whilst sat amongst her unwashed knickers and tokens from admirers is journalist Jack Walser. Soon smitten, Jack joins the circus in which she’s the star attraction, and then we’re off...

Instead of joining the rest of the crowd in the stands, we ta...more
Jen
Sep 12, 2007 Jen is currently reading it
Shelves: gaveupon
I have a bad habit recently developed of reading too many books at once and not finishing most of them. On the other hand, what does it say about the book that I'm not compelled to finish it? While I thought the writing itself was interesting, I never really cared much about any of the characters, and there wasn't anything here that kept me reading for the 300 some pages.
Lin
Aug 29, 2007 Lin rated it 5 of 5 stars
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!
Ellie
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...more
Jade
From what I thought would be a beautiful and enchanting read came something a bit more dark and gritty. This book felt a little like walking into a nightclub midday and seeing the crumbling walls, worn sofas and vomit stains on the carpet.

Nights at the Circus tells the story of circus folk, but not in the glamourous way that we want them to be. This novel takes their make-up off and shows the undercurrent of ruined beings who are brought together from a need to feel an audiences approval, an app...more
Josephine
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...more
Angie
I have missed this book since I finished it. It really took me to amazing places in my imagination along with the circus entourage I grew to know.

I actually found the tale of Fevvers, the cockney aerialist with real wings, thrilling and as I approached the ending, I slowed down as I didn't want it to end, and its really not often I feel like this.

The initial interview with Jack Walser, the American journalist, so entranced with Fevvers that he wants to know her entire life story (never told to...more
Em
Nights at the Circus is a very difficult book to write about, essentially, it is the story of a winged aerialist called "Fevvers" and an American journalist who interviews her.

Actually, it a lot more than just this - as we are drawn at tangents into the background of other characters and we move from the theatre, to the circus, a whore house, a freak show and more.

Transplanted from London to Russia then Siberia, there is much about this story which is totally fantastical and magical, there is...more
Grania
Jul 18, 2007 Grania rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cheeky cockney sparrows with ambition to be bigger birds
Shelves: loved-it
If this book was a piece of furniture, it would be a rococco chaise lounge, upholstered in a mustard fabric, which has a sheen from regular use, and a few darker patches. The legs would be gilt carving with priapic cherubs chasing large chested doves.
Ruby
I want to read an enormous bunch of articles about this that all contradict each other and then read this again (and again) because it is fabulous.

Also, the Sarah Waters's introduction in this particular Vintage edition is basically perfect.
Althea Ann
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...more
Cristina Boncea
CINE AR FI CREZUT vreodată că ultimele două pagini m-au făcut să-mi schimb cu totul părerea. Poate nu chiar cu totul, la început mi-a plăcut foarte mult ideea și totul, mai ales că aveam deja o pasiune pentru Angela Carter.

Fevvers (Sophia) este o femeie cu aripi. Este masivă, puternică și lucrează la circ. Jack Walser e un jurnalist american și nu crede că Fevvers are într-adevăr aripi așa că îi ia un interviu lung, aflându-i povestea de viață. Fevvers a fost abandonată iar Lizzie a adoptat-o,...more
Leah
I don't think I've ever read anything like this book before. It is completely original, to me.

It's not a simple book to summarise, either in its narrative or in its intentions as a novel, or a piece of art, or a piece of political social commentary.

I got the feeling all the way through that Angela Carter is a Big Deal. That she has Things To Say, and that she was Saying them as I was reading. I just seemed to be missing them. It's a strange feeling for me, as I consider myself a fairly well read...more
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From Wikipedia: 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...more
More about Angela Carter...
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories The Magic Toyshop Wise Children Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories

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“The child's laughter is pure until he first laughs at a clown.” 97 likes
“Out of the frying pan into the fire! What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many? No different!” 52 likes
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