Nights at the Circus

Nights at the Circus

3.7 6
by Angela Carter
     
 

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Sophi Fevvers—the toast of Europe's capitals, courted by the Prince of Wales, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec—is an aerialiste extraordinaire, star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover Fevvers's true identity: Is she part swan or all fake? Dazzled by his love for

Overview

Sophi Fevvers—the toast of Europe's capitals, courted by the Prince of Wales, painted by Toulouse-Lautrec—is an aerialiste extraordinaire, star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is also part woman, part swan. Jack Walser, an American journalist, is on a quest to discover Fevvers's true identity: Is she part swan or all fake? Dazzled by his love for Fevvers, and desperate for the scoop of a lifetime, Walser joins the circus on its tour. The journey takes him—and the reader—on an intoxicating trip through turn-of-the-century London, St. Petersburg, and Siberia—a tour so magical that only Angela Carter could have created it.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An ebullient tall tale… spellbinding… entrancing."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Loud, bawdy, and unabashedly sentimental … a wonderfully vital creation."
The New York Times

"Night at the Circus is good, clean fun—well, good fun anyway. Its raunchy moments are steaming, bizarre, at times unsettling, but there is definitely an appreciation here for love, sentiment, and entertainment."
—Raymond Mungo, San Francisco Chronicle

"A three-ring extravaganza … Carter's brand of fanciful and sometimes kinky feminism has never been more thoroughly or entertainingly on display."
Time

Carolyn See
Mrs. Carter, who is the author of seven previous novels and two collections of short stories, might have remembered that at the circus, or in a book, the real trick is to quit while you're ahead, to get off stage with the audience begging for more. Nights at the Circus is a class act, drawing as it does on a mad mixture of Mary Poppins, Djuna Barnes's Nightwood {BRD 1937}, Greek mythology and reruns of 'The Bionic Woman.' It's wonderful to read, but there comes a time when you long for the circus to be over so you can go home toyour quiet bed. For me that point was reached when a Siberian shaman, trailing an amnesiac Walser, fitfully slalomed from tree to tree, asking each if it was appropriate for drumming; 'This is what the drumming tree said to the Shaman: "Yah! Fooled you!"' -- New York Times Book Review
Amy E. Schwartz
Carter's first success in {this book}, a success she sustains throughout,is to make us believe in a female central character who hatched out of a swan's egg and has wings. . . . Extravagant invention sometimes becomes a strain, not on readers' credibility--it's hardly an issue--but on their endurance. The novel seems a good deal longer than its 300 pages, and at times the odyssey becomes a rather exhausting trudge; Nights at the Circus is best on second or third reading, once a reader can slow down to Carter's pace without fretting over the lazy progress of the actual narrative. But the very density of the weirdness accomplishes part of Carter's purpose. . . . Carter describes a localeas exotic to the traditional reader as her women are to Walser and, by implication, all men; and she undercuts accepted Western history as she goes.
Copyright 1983 The H.W. Wilson Company. All rights reserved. -- New Republic
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Carter, a splendid British writer (The Magic Toyshop; Nights at the Circus) all too little known here, has a real winner in this giddy tale of a highly eccentric British theatrical family. Nora and Dora Chance are twin sisters, former vaudeville dancers not beyond some high-stepping sex even at age 75, living in a once rundown but newly smart area of South London. Dora tells their tale, and her narrative voice is a triumph: deeply feminine, ribald, self-deprecating (on their birth: "We came bursting out on a Monday morning, on a day of sunshine and high wind when the Zeppelins were falling''). Their mother, seduced by the legendary actor Sir Melchior Hazard, dies giving birth; the girls are brought up by the landlady, and eventually come to nurture one of Melchior's several cast-off wives. Meanwhile, his brother Peregrine, who once set off to wander the world. . . . The extravagant family comes together for a lavish 100th birthday party for British institution Sir Melchior, at which skeletons galore clatter out in full view of a national TV audience. The party is one magnificently unforgettable set-piece. The other is the filming, in Hollywood in the late '30s, of a terrible version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, by a culture-mad producer--one of the funniest and most deadly portraits of moviedom ever penned. But the whole book is comic writing of the highest order: spry, witty, earthy and oddly touching at times. It was a large success in Britain, and deserves to do as well here. (Jan.)
Raymond Mungo
"Nights at the Circus is good, clean fun - well, good fun anyway. It's raunchy moments are steaming, bizarre, at times unsettling, but there is definitely an appreciation here for love, sentiment, and entertainment. -- San Francisco Chronicle
Kirkus Reviews
Historical events and personages viewed as in a distorting mirror, and beasts of prey endangered by encounters with their chosen quarry, are representative of the charmingly deranged fiction of the late Carter (194093).

Carter's impertinent revisions of cherished conventions and beloved traditional stories do not elicit mild or neutral reactions from readers. As her friend Salman Rushdie suggests in his warm introduction to this rich collection of 42 stories (spanning the years 196293), one is either pleasurably seduced by her languorous imagery and overripe vocabulary, or made slightly ill by her intemperate romantic sensuality: you love her or you hate her. Even those attuned to Carter's perfervid imagination will have to pick and choose their way through a minefield of knotty prose and naughtier conceits, from several decidedly precious early tales through the contents of her acclaimed story volumes (such as The Bloody Chamber and Saints and Strangers) to a final three uncollected pieces that are even more hothouse-baroque than her usual work. If you can bypass the gamy contes cruels that show Carter at her worst, there's much to enjoy in her wry feminist response to the smug mandates of sexism, racism . . . come to think of it, most -isms. "The Bloody Chamber" amusingly reinvents the Bluebeard legend, featuring a virginal bride reluctant to become yet another passive victim; "The Fall River Axe Murders" examines Lizzie Borden from a sardonic female perspective; "Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream" retells Shakespeare's comedy from the viewpoint of the changeling child for whom fairy rulers Oberon and Titania contend. And in the amazing "Our Lady of the Massacre," Carter employs the familiar narrative of (American) Indian captivity to create in a mere 14 pages a brilliantly compact near-novella.

A book of wonders, then, even if too cloying for some tastes—and a welcome occasion for reassessing the work of one of the most unusual writers of recent emergence.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140077032
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/28/1986
Series:
Fiction Series
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
163,547
Product dimensions:
5.04(w) x 7.69(h) x 0.68(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"An ebullient tall tale… spellbinding… entrancing."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Loud, bawdy, and unabashedly sentimental … a wonderfully vital creation."
—The New York Times

"Night at the Circus is good, clean fun—well, good fun anyway. Its raunchy moments are steaming, bizarre, at times unsettling, but there is definitely an appreciation here for love, sentiment, and entertainment."
—Raymond Mungo, San Francisco Chronicle

"A three-ring extravaganza … Carter's brand of fanciful and sometimes kinky feminism has never been more thoroughly or entertainingly on display."
Time

Meet the Author

Angela Carter (1940 -1992) wrote nine novels and numerous short stories, as well as nonfiction, radio plays, and the screenplay for Neil Jordan's 1984 movie The Company of Wolves, based on her story. She won numerous literary awards, traveled and taught widely in the United States, and lived in London.

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Nights at the Circus 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
CR-Buell More than 1 year ago
Fevvers is the world's greatest aerialist. She stands 6'2" and has fully functional wings. Yes wings. She's loud, crass, and overtly sexual. She is everything a woman of her era is not. And that is the point. Journalist Jack Walser sits down to interview Fevvers in London, with the intention of proving her a fraud. But a strange thing happens; as Fevvers recounts her incredible life story Walser finds himself, like pretty much everyone else, falling in love with her. So he does the obvious thing; he runs away and joins the circus. As Walser and Fevvers travel through Russia we explore the often hilarious, and always heartbreaking, lives of the other circus performers. There's Buffo the great and terrible, and his retinue of clowns; the silent cat-tamer, known as the Princess of Abyssinia; the intelligent apes, far more capable than their handler; the terminally innocent orphan Mignon; and the cowardly strongman Samson. But most importantly we explore the meaning of Fevvers. Fevvers, the evolution of woman, metaphorically speaking, though physically depicted. Though Walser is deeply in love with her, he cannot truly understand or accept Fevvers. He will have to be broken down, erased completely, and rebuilt from the ground up before he is able to love her for who she is, rather than who he expects her to be. Carter's prose is beautiful, and Nights at the Circus is a deeply moving, and very funny novel exploring the themes of individuality, independence, and equality.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have not read this book and therefore can only offer a review on the shipping and handling which was excellent.