book reviews by Althea

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter ****

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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 fiction – to the journalist Jack Walser. In search of a juicy scoop (or possibly following Fevvers), Jack runs away with the circus in the disguise of a clown.

From London to the steppes of Russia, the circus encounters a series of disastrous events, culminating in a bizarre and magical – yet unexpectedly domestic – grand finale.

The story is told in a rather circuitous, non-linear style, changing focus and episodes (different ‘acts’?). The characters often speak far more like academic theorists than one might guess they would (a prostitute interested in political theory might be unusual, but not as much so as an Educated Ape negotiating his own contract.)

Earthy, lusty (mostly in the sense of a lust for life), both humorous and serious, the book is both entertaining and a worthwhile read.


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