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Nights at the Circus

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  11,035 ratings  ·  921 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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Average rating 3.91  · 
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 ·  11,035 ratings  ·  921 reviews

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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
Richard Derus
May 31, 2012 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
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
Oct 08, 2015 rated it liked it
(Spoilers, eh) 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 ad ...more
Jul 08, 2009 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.
Nate D
Nov 28, 2015 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 in which both interrogate reality in earnest through application of elaborate systems of meaning in which ev ...more
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
Lucy Banks
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing

I'd been expecting good things from this book, as everyone always tells me how wonderful Angela Carter is, and it certainly delivered!

It's a surreal, earthy kind of book, divided into three distinct parts, which largely focus on the introduction of Fevvers (the fabulous cockney winged woman), the days at the circus, and the wilds of Siberia. Hey, I did warn you it was surreal!

In this book, the reader encounters intelligent pigs (I LOVED Sybil!), brothel madams who like dressing up as
Nandakishore Mridula
My God. What a breathtaking journey.

Does Angela Carter write fantasy or magical realism? It's very difficult to say. It starts off in a mundane enough setting, in the dressing room of a famous aerialiste (or trapeze artist, in common English), Sophie Fevvers, where she, in the company of her foster mother Lizzie, is being interviewed by the young journalist Jack Walser, in the waning days of the nineteenth century. There is nothing remarkable about Sophie other than the fact that she sports a pa
Manuel Antão
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1986
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Femina lupa feminae: "Nights at the Circus" by Angela Carter

' "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
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
Sandi (Zorena)
Jul 12, 2011 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
Update - A story about stories and illusion.

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
'“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 Cir
Sep 09, 2008 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
'Wherein does a woman's honour reside, old chap? In her vagina or in her spirit?'

Sprawling, bawdy, bizarre, repulsive, enchanting.

Angela Carter’s imagination will never cease to astound me. Nights at the Circus is an endlessly original, entirely absorbing magical realism saturated with ambience. Her lush, elegant, ridiculous prose revels in her usual dichotomy of dreamy, psychedelic descriptions brought into sharp focus by the earthy, repellent reminders of filth. How does she do it? How?!

Feb 03, 2011 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
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
lynne naranek
Nov 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2007
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Allie Riley
May 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was just stunning. Take the bawdiness and vocabulary of Music Hall, add a dash of Classics, a soupcon of feminism, give it a good shake and season with a touch of je ne sais quoi and you have "Nights at the Circus". Truly a folk tale for grown-ups, the character of Fevvers will linger for a long time after you have finished turning the pages. She is strong, clever, funny, outrageous and truly wonderful. We never find out the veracity of her claims, but it doesn't matter. And I, for one, wou ...more
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Feb 20, 2011 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
Tamara Agha-Jaffar
Enter the topsy-turvy world of Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus where you will travel from London to Petersburg to Siberia, where you will encounter waltzing tigers, literate chimpanzees, introspective elephants, a clairvoyant pig, and where you will meet a motley crew of very unusual characters. Best of all, you will go on this raucous journey with the inimitable Fevvers— a part woman, part swan hybrid. She is a tall, statuesque aerieliste with a penchant for spouting earthy, no-nonsense wi ...more
Sep 30, 2016 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
Eddie Clarke
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy, fiction, abe
Literally, fabulous. I was never less than fully enchanted and engrossed by Carter’s multiplying narratives - but do they add up to a novel? For me the novel has a similar sort of philosophising focus as Candide and Rasselas (and the even same charming magic realism - as if it was a late-20th-century riposte to those Age of Reason texts). I fear a reader wedded to character arcs and sound narrative structure might struggle with this - however, the novel’s symbols and themes are brilliantly coher ...more
Jul 03, 2021 marked it as didntfinish-yet
Shelves: read-2021
I always, always love Angela, but I just couldn't keep myself tethered to this book this time around. I blame the last gasp of the pandemic winter and having spent too long Extremely Online; her characters' extravagantly rendered dialects, Sophie Fevvers page-long sentences, her stories-within-stories-within-stories, and Carter's extreme attention to detail — it all combined to make me feel like a balloon bobbing just above the page, incapable of staying engaged for more than a few pages at a cl ...more
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
Stef Rozitis
The carnavelesque atmosphere gave it an almost gothic cast (though it was set too late to really be gothic) similarily it brought to mind steam-punk without really being that either. The whole clock that strikes midnight continuously, the speculations about the wings being "fake" all fits into the world of the brothels, houses of horror and circuses and creates this fantastical almost-realist picture (which of course eventually Carter stunningly rips to shreds, leaving the reader feeling suddenl ...more
Tom Meade
I really enjoyed this book. It's wildly imaginative and has a great tone - the book combines the unrestrained fantastic elements of a childrens book with a very adult approach, so that a brothel full of freaks or a man with a head injury being kept drugged on amanita-laced urine by a pedaristic confidence trickster is presented no less whimsically than a group of educated apes negotiating business contracts with a man dressed as Uncle Sam through the intercessions of a clairvoyant pig (which is ...more
Althea Ann
Oct 09, 2012 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
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Play Book Tag: Nights at the Circus | Angela Carter | 5 sparkling stars 10 32 Jun 11, 2018 10:16AM  
Overlooked authors 10 70 Aug 04, 2016 11:21AM  

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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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