Richard Derus's Reviews > Nights at the Circus

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter
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May 31, 2012

it was amazing
Read in December, 1997

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 magical tour through turn-of-the-nineteenth-century London, St Petersburg and Siberia.

My Capsule Comment: *swoon*

My Review: Yes indeed, I still agree with myself here. In these fill-in reviews of the over 100 books my RL (or F2F, whichever) book circle has read since 1994 that I have never written reviews for, I'm finding that some opinions have changed significantly. Not here. *SWOON*

Whatever I tell you about the plot, which is unremarkable (boy meets girl-oid, etc.), is utterly overshadowed by one fact of the book: Fevvers.

She is an aerialiste, the best in the world, and it's all down to her unknown avian ancestry, she tells Jack, the newspaperman who's in love with her (as who isn't?). See, she was hatched from an egg, and spent her post-menarche years as a living cupid in a bordello foyer. Now she's a six-two, winged sensation with only a nodding acquaintance with reality, since she's always lived outside its dreary confines in the bordello, which she helped burn down, and then with Col. Kearney's circus, where she's the star attraction.

The novel takes us from London to Petersburg and points east at the tail end of the 19th century. We meet Lizzie, Fevvers' adopted mom (and probably a witch); the Princess of Abyssinia, a silent-through-trauma cat-tamer and lesbian lover of Mignon, the young lassie with the beautiful voice that drives a jealous spike between Fevvers and Jack; Christian the christian idiot who believes Fevvers is an angel fallen from Heaven and sets about sacrificing her to obtain immortality from god; and not least Col. Kearney himself, the profligate owner of the circus that's on tour, who is advised by his pig Sybil.

PG Wodehouse writes a Monty Python sketch in the style of Virginia Woolf. Enchanting. Scintillating. Close to perfect. A bottle of Veuve Cliquot served in a crystal flute while sitting in the shade of an ancient oak in a summery forest glade.

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

Angela Carter
“Out of the frying pan into the fire! What is marriage but prostitution to one man instead of many? No different!”
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus


Reading Progress

02/23/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by Stephen M (last edited May 31, 2012 10:17PM) (new)

Stephen M I've heard really interesting things about this book and now your review has me wanting to read it! It's quite a feminist book, no? (not implying anything bad by any means, just curious to get a feel for it).


Richard Derus Stephen M wrote: "I've heard really interesting things about this book and now you're review has me wanting to read it! It's quite a feminist book, no? (not implying anything bad by any means, just curious to get a ..."

Dunno...feminist? Certainly not a doctrinaire book, no. It's woman-centered and (in my opinion) woman-positive, but I don't know how to evaluate things on a feminist-to-not-feminist continuum.


message 3: by Stephen M (new)

Stephen M I'd say a book could be feminist if it is critical of woman's oppression or is directly dealing with women's issues.

It doesn't have to be didactic to be feminist.


message 4: by Contrarius (new) - added it

Contrarius Wow. I never heard of this, but now I may have to read it. Richard, you're a champ at book-peddling!


Richard Derus Stephen M wrote: "I'd say a book could be feminist if it is critical of woman's oppression or is directly dealing with women's issues.

It doesn't have to be didactic to be feminist."


That's a broad-church definition, and what exactly are "women's issues" not to do with reproductive anatomy? Aren't we all human?


Richard Derus Contrarius wrote: "Wow. I never heard of this, but now I may have to read it. Richard, you're a champ at book-peddling!"

Please, please do...it's one of the best reads of my sad, boring little life...I want people to love it, and when they read it, they usually do.


message 7: by Jean-marcel (new)

Jean-marcel Sweet. I have this, but haven't read it yet. I'm currently over halfway through her Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, though. What a twisty, metamorphic, tripped-out book that is. I've read many of her short stories, but this book is making me decide that I actually really, really like Carter.


Richard Derus Jean-marcel wrote: "Sweet. I have this, but haven't read it yet. I'm currently over halfway through her Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, though. What a twisty, metamorphic, tripped-out book that is. I've re..."

Her early death was a nasty loss to English language literature. I would have *loved* to read the sequel to Jane Eyre she was planning to write. Only 51! Damned cigarettes.


message 9: by Jean-marcel (new)

Jean-marcel Yeah, such a terrible loss indeed.

About her feminism, there's a lot more to it than you'd first think. I'm not sure the tag "feminist writer" doesn't do her a bit of a disservice in some way.


Richard Derus She was an activist, in my book, a campaigner for solutions to issues that matter (or should) to all reasonable people. She got politicized and her essays are extremely tendentious. BUT her fiction was, and I think still is, delightful and readable because she told stories about people, not because she storied up her politics.

I see a world of difference between those things.


message 11: by mark (new)

mark monday glad you liked this one! i love Angela Carter. actually, i LOVE Angela Carter. one of my favorites.


Chris Love the last paragraph of this review. Really, really do.


Richard Derus Chris wrote: "Love the last paragraph of this review. Really, really do."

Thank you, Chris! It's an amazing book.


message 14: by Gheeta (new) - added it

Gheeta makes me want to hunt down this title, hmmm...


Richard Derus Run! Run and get it.


Chris Richard is right.


Linda Lipko Richard, I read this book last winter...It haunts me still!


Richard Derus Fevvers will do that to a person, Linda.


Linda Lipko What a character that was so well developed by the author. A bit weird, but so incredibly portrayed that this book haunts long after the last page.


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