Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter

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I hadn’t read any Angela Carter, so when I saw that Claire was creating a whole month dedicated to celebrating her work I decided it was time to give Angela Carter a try.

Nights at the Circus centres on Fevvers, an extraordinary character who claims she was hatched from an egg. During an interview she explains that she was a normal child until she hit puberty, when wings grew on her back. Fevvers is a famous circus performer and one of the most vivid characters I have ever read. Raised in a brothel, with a distinctive Cockney accent, her presence just leaps from the page – I loved her!

Her voice. It was as if Walser had become a prisoner of her voice, her cavernous, sombre voice, a voice made for shouting about the tempest, her voice of a celestial fishwife. Musical as it strangely was, yet not a voice for singing with; it comprised discords, her scale contained twelve tones. Her voice, with its warped, homely, Cockney vowels and random aspirates. Her dark, rusty, dipping, swooping voice, imperious as a siren’s.

Unfortunately the rest of the book didn’t capture my imagination in the same way. I’m not a big fan of magical realism and so its heavy presence in the book wasn’t a positive for me.

The book also contained little plot. Lots of things happened, but there was never that forward momentum compelling me to read on – it was more like reading several individual scenes instead of one connected story. I had hoped that everything would be brought together at the end, but instead I found the last page very irriating – I think I just lack Angela Carter’s sense of humor!

I’m really pleased that I read this book, as I think it is an important novel that has influenced many other authors, but I’ll have to leave all the Angela Carter promotion to Claire! 

Highly recommeded to fans of magical realism.

 

Most people seem to love this book, so I’ll leave you to have a look at some wonderful reviews:

 ….a dizzying and magical journey… Things Mean a Lot

Carter’s style is scandalously generous with brilliant descriptions, stunning word portraits that pack every event out with jewel-bright glimpses into the different layers of her fictional world. Tales from the Reading Room

Do you love Angela Carter’s books?

Do you enjoy magical realism?


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45 Comments

  1. Well, I don’t think I need to answer the first question, do I? As for the second, most definitely; two of my other favourite authors are Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie, which say it all.

    I replied saying this in my comments on my Fevvers post at the weekend, but I think that we have a very different idea of what constitutes plot. I will admit though that there are a lot of stand-alone vignettes in Nights at the Circus and individual story-lines (I LOVE the scenes set in prison and how the women write).

    Thank you for giving Carter a try, Jackie; I appreciate it. Perhaps you will enjoy The Magic Toyshop more, even there’s no Fevvers in it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, Thank you for hosting a wonderful celebration of Angela Carter’s books! I’m willing to give any author a try once – especially if they are as iconic as her.

      Is the Magic Toyshop a more conventional novel, without magical realism? Not sure I want to rush into another of her books, but will get round to it one day.

      1. Carter doesn’t do conventional! Less magical realism and more fairy tale elements. There is also a giant puppet swan who re-enacts the rape of Leda by the swan, make of that what you will.

  2. I loved ‘Nights at the Circus’, but I can understand where your criticism stems from and I agree with some of the points. The ending was highly unsatisfying. Thankfully, that didn’t really irritate me enough to say that I only felt ‘meh’ about the book.
    In generally, I like magical realism, but it seems only by certain authors. I just can’t bring myself to like Salman Rushdie, even though I like certain of his short stories. I’ve tried to get through ‘Midnights Children’, but I have failed.

    1. Jackie says:

      Susi, I enjoyed Midnight’s Children slightly more than this, but I do love Indian literature. I found them to be quite similar in style, so am surprised you love one and not the other. It is interesting to see how much everyone’s taste in books differs!

  3. Sandy says:

    You have my attention, with that excerpt and the suggestion of magical realism. I am willing to try just about anything! And as superficial as it may seem, I have to mention the cover. It resembles a number of other covers I’ve seen lately…a certain type of art. Any ideas on who illustrated it and whether they have been making the circuit?

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I afraid I have no idea who the illustrator is :-( I can only agree that it is a beautiful cover!

      1. Sandy, the illustrator is Dutch artist and illustrator Parra (aka Pieter Janssen). Vintage reissued six of Carter’s books in summer 2006 with revamped covers by Parra. Personally I don’t like them as much as the Roxanna Bikadoroff covers and think they are quite bland in comparison (bright, colourful spines though!)

        1. Claire, are the Roxanna Bikadoroff covers the ones published by Penguin? I prefer them over the Vintage ones, too. Am especially attracted to the cover of LOVE.

          1. Claire, Roxanna Bikadoroff illustrated the funky Virago covers in the UK and the similar Penguins in the US (the Penguins came first). Do you mean the LOVE cover similar to that above, purple with pink font?

        2. No, not the LOVE cover similar to Jackie’s cover above. The one I like is this: http://www.bookdepository.com/book/9780140108514/Love

          1. That one is stunning, claire.

  4. Steph says:

    Well, you know I’m a big fan of magical realism and that I really enjoyed Wise Children by Carter when I read it earlier this month. I definitely think this will be the next Carter I read – everything you mention as being part of this story really appeals to me! :D

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I’m sure you’ll love it! I predict it will become one of your favourites!

      1. I wholeheartedly concur that you’ll love it, Steph!

  5. Verity says:

    I think Angela Carter may be someone who we both feel the same about Jackie! My posts about her have been on my Virago blog, so you may not have seen them, but you sum up some of my feelings!

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, I’ll have to go and have a look at your Virago blog – it is good to know I’m not alone in my thoughts on this book.

  6. Amy says:

    That quote sounds magical, and I do like the sounds of the book I think, despite what you say. Too bad that you weren’t a fan though. I haven’t read any Angela Carter but I definitely want to soon after reading so many incredible reviews.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, If you like the sound of it and enjoy magical realism then this one could be for you. I hope you enjoy your first Carter!

  7. Stujallen says:

    i ve this to read but can’t see it for a week or so may just scrap in at end of carter month

    1. Jackie says:

      Stujallen, I hope you manage to squueze it in before the end of the month!

  8. vivienne says:

    I read this one years ago and loved it. I love any books with magical realism in. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have real magic in real life.

    1. Jackie says:

      vivienne, I’m not sure about magic in real life. My son has Aspergers and so can’t tell difference between fact and fiction – he is petrified of magic and I think I’d be scared if I thought someone could just randomly come and turn me into a chicken at any point!

  9. Jenny says:

    I have mixed feelings about magical realism. I’ve loved most of Rushdie’s books but I passionately hated One Hundred Years of Solitude. When I tried to read Nights at the Circus, I didn’t care for it, but I’m really enjoying Carter’s Wise Children, which I started the other day. So I guess magical realism is just hit-or-miss for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, Perhaps I should give Wise Children a try? I did enjoy Midnight’s Children, so I could have a similar taste to you?

  10. I have never read an Angela Carter before but my new copy of Nights At The Circus (Vintage Edition) arrived today and I can’t wait to read it. I absolutely love the Vintage covers, especially the ones for Love and The Bloody Chamber.

    I have not read much magical realism but adored House of the Spirits and City of Beasts by Isabel Allende.

    1. Jackie says:

      tea lady, I haven’t read any Isabel Allende, but have several of her books here. She is another author I really feel I should read, but haven’t.

  11. Lydia says:

    Hmm… I’ve never had a great deal of luck with magical realism but I am still curious about this one. Carter is in a category all her own.

    -Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

    1. Jackie says:

      Lydia, She is a very talented author!

  12. Iris says:

    I’ve never read any Angela Carter, but like every one else in the bookblogging community, I’ve promised myself to try because of Claire’s promotion. I have yet to start reading a book by her though, so I might not make it in time for Anegla Carter month.

    As for magical realism. I don’t know. I’m never any good with knowing what all these types and genres stand for and so I cannot say if I enjoy it or not. I feel pretty stupid not knowing, but it’s just the way it is. I might learn in time, through the blogging community, to make more sense of genre-names.

    1. Jackie says:

      Iris, Don’t feel studid – I wouldn’t really have known before joining the blogging community either. It sounds as though I should write a post on magical realism and explain it.

  13. JoAnn says:

    Magical realism isn’t for me… I just don’t get it :-( I have enjoyed some of Carter’s short stories, and hope to feature one for Short Story Monday before the month slips away. I had planned to read The Magic Toyshop this month, but life got in the way.

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, Life is always doing that to me too :-)

      I’m not a fan of short stories, so don’t think they’d work for me either. I hope you manage to read The Magic Toyshop at some time in the near future, as it would be good to know your thoughts.

  14. Jackie, I’ve yet to see if I like Angela Carter! But I do love magical realism (like Claire, some of my faves are Garcia Marquez, Rushdie, and Toni Morrison). I’ll be reading The Magic Toyshop very soon!

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, It sounds as though you have a treat waiting for you – I’m sure you’ll love this!

  15. litlove says:

    I don’t know whether anyone’s suggested this or not, but The Bloody Chamber, Carter’s rewrite of fairy tales, is probably the most accessible route into her work. Lots of people find magical realism a bit hard to take, but somehow in the context of fairy tales, it’s not so bad. I’m actually a magic realism fan, because I like being able to marvel at what words and our imaginations can do when harnassed together, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea! I’m glad you liked Fevvers, though, Jackie – she really is such a splendid character.

    1. Jackie says:

      litlove, Thank you for the recommendation! I will try to get hold of The Bloody Chamber and see if I enjoy it.

  16. Andreea says:

    Well, I like magical realism, but not all the books are for me either. Although I must say that I liked Angela Carter’s short stories from ‘The Bloody Chamber’ which I read at my university. That’s why I want to read more of this author, but I don’t know if I will enjoy every book, because after reading some of the reviews, I am not sure if I would like them all.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andreea, If you liked some of her previous work and magical realism then there is a good chance you’ll enjoy this one. I look forward to seeing your review at some point.

  17. Shannon says:

    I absolutely love this book! I read it for a course at uni and I’ve never been able to get it out of my head. It’s one of my goals to read more Carter, starting with The Bloody Chamber. Shame you didn’t enjoy it, but if you don’t like magical realism I can understand why :) (I come from a Fantasy background myself ;) )

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, I’m not a big fan of fantasy, prefering my books to have more realistic scenes. I can see why people love this book though – I think it will remain a classic that people will read for centuries to come.

  18. Rachel says:

    I don’t usually like magical realism but I do enjoy Angela Carter! I’m sorry you didn’t get on with this Jackie!

    1. Jackie says:

      Rachel, Hopefully I’ll enjoy some of Angela Carters books in the future – it does sound as though each is very different.

  19. mee says:

    I don’t think I have read much magical realism. My first impression from people’s reviews was she was like a female Murakami, but I have finished The Bloody Chamber now and she’s not like him at all. But perhaps the Bloody Chamber is a bit different with the rest of her works. I did have problem with most of the endings, like you.

    1. Jackie says:

      mee, I don’t think there is much similarity between Carter and Murakami. Both produce some very weird stuff, but they have very different styles. I have loved most of Murakamis work, but think I may not enjoy much of Carters. It is interesting to hear that you had a problem with her endings too.

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