Rob's Reviews > Nights at the Circus

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
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's review
Jun 28, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2009, cannibalism, all-time-favorites, wishlist
Recommended to Rob by: John
Read in September, 2009 , read count: 1

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 introduction to Carter, her short story "The Loves of Lady Purple" (check it out in Wayward Girls and Wicked Women ).

Nights at the Circus goes beyond the expectations set by "The Loves of Lady Purple". It is more fantastic, more surreal, more political, more challenging, more graphic, and though more forceful also much more subtle. The traveling circus of Colonel Kearney provides such a splendid backdrop for Angela Carter's handiwork that I would not be at all surprised if this is her finest novel {†}. The notion of the circus opens up every possibility for her—literate monkeys taking over their own care and negotiating their own compensation, a fortune-telling pig, abject and sociopathic alcoholic clowns {††}... And most of that (despite providing its own commentary) seems on the surface to primarily help provide color to a narrative that focuses on a struggle to reconcile independence/individuality with the desire to mate and bond with others. Carter cleverly leads the reader along her characters' paths via totems and proxies, and accelerates us through their worlds in crisis when those totems become threatened and lost.

This is one novel that is as brilliant as it is lyrical.

† = Again, as of this writing, I've only read this novel and one short story. Though I may perhaps be biased by the strength of the recommendation that J.M. made when suggesting the werk in the first place.

†† = Not to mention the thorough deconstruction of clowning.

See also:
Graham Joyce's top 10 fairy fictions
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Quotes Rob Liked

Angela Carter
“Outside the window, there slides past that unimaginable and deserted vastness where night is coming on, the sun declining in ghastly blood-streaked splendour like a public execution across, it would seem, half a continent, where live only bears and shooting stars and the wolves who lap congealing ice from water that holds within it the entire sky. All white with snow as if under dustsheets, as if laid away eternally as soon as brought back from the shop, never to be used or touched. Horrors! And, as on a cyclorama, this unnatural spectacle rolls past at twenty-odd miles an hour in a tidy frame of lace curtains only a little the worse for soot and drapes of a heavy velvet of dark, dusty blue.”
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

Angela Carter
“And, conversely, she went on to herself, sneering at the Grand Duke's palace, poverty is wasted on the poor, who never know how to make the best of things, are only the rich without money, are just as useless at looking after themselves, can't handle their cash just like the rich can't, always squandering it on bright, pretty, useless things in just the same way.”
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

Angela Carter
“The child's laughter is pure until he first laughs at a clown.”
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

Angela Carter
“We must all make do with the rags of love we find flapping on the scarecrow of humanity.”
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus

Reading Progress

08/30/2009 page 158
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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John McDonald Nice review! To sort of answer your supposition, which is correct, Nights at the Circus is generally considered Carter's best, most accomplished novel. It may be my favorite as well, although I may be wrong and my favorite is actually The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman (and the one you should read next). After that it's the genderbent dystopian scifi of The Passion of the New Eve (which might actually be my favorite - you always love your first the best), and you've gotten through what most would list as her major works.

Louise Jones finding it a bit if a struggle at mo but only 3 chapters in which has taken me ages must admit it is intrigueing and will not give up on it quite yet

message 3: by Rob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rob Louise wrote: "finding it a bit if a struggle at mo but only 3 chapters in which has taken me ages must admit it is intrigueing and will not give up on it quite yet"

Please don't. It's such a rewarding book.

Louise Jones umm yer just on to the second part and must admit itgetting more into it it is not the normal thing i read but glad I am sticking it out thanks !!!

Honey-Squirrel If you like Angela Carter's writing you'd probably enjoy A.S. Byatt, esp The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye.

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