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Description - Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

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.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099388616
ISBN-10: 0099388618
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 23mm)
Pages: 368
Imprint: Vintage Classics
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 3-Jan-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

UK Kirkus Review » Fevvers, the turn-of-the-century aerial artiste who really flies is one of Carter's most memorable creations. From the London stage, she weaves her fantastical way through some haunting - and extremely strange - experiences. This is a book that triumphantly combines feminism, fantasy, ribaldry and even pathos. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Half-serious, half-silly, consistently stylish if only fitfully amusing: a farcical picaresque (London to Russia) about an 1899 touring circus - with Carter's usual feminist themes poking and darting just below the frolicsome surface. In the first of three sections, US journalist Jack Walser does an all-night dressing room interview with "Fevvers," a.k.a. "the Cockney Venus," the most famous aerialiste of the day: she's hugely tall, Cockney-earthy, and famous for having wing-like growths on her back (was her father really a swan?) - which allow her, it seems, to do impossibly slow somersaults in the air. Walser is skeptical, yet oddly smitten, as Fevvers tells her life story, assisted by ribald/pedantic asides from foster-mother Lizzie. And the story, though fragmented and distanced by the interview-framework, is a Dickensian doozy: baby Fevvers is abandoned, raised in a cozy brothel, then forced to display herself in Madame Schreck's "museum of woman monsters" (where Fewers' deformity is comparatively minor); she nearly gets raped-and-killed by a priapic cultist. ("This is some kind of heretical possibly Manichean version of neo-Platonic Rosicrucianism, thinks I to myself; tread carefully, girlie!") Now, however, Fewers is a star-attraction, an Amazonian success story - and young Walser is so enraptured that, disguised as a clown, he follows the circus to St. Petersburg. There, in Part II, Walser experiences the humiliations of clownhood, rescues the Ape-man's abused wife (who has her own woeful history), and hesitantly woos the dominating Fewers - who herself fights off yet another rapist. Then Part III takes the circus via train into Siberia, where things get excessively, effortfully wacky: Walser, dumped off the train, is rescued by a band of murderesses, who've just staged a jailbreak (inspired by Sapphic passion); suffering from amnesia, he is adopted by a far-out Shaman, who supplies hallucinogenic urine and speaks "an obscure Finno-Ugrian dialect just about to perplex three generations of philologists." And finally, as Walser chants a Siberian version of "Bird in a Gilded Cage," he's rescued by Fevvers - who fears marriage ("My being, my me-ness, is unique and indivisible") but sees real possibilities in the new, much-humiliated Walser: "I'll make him into the New Man, in fact, fitting mate for the New Woman, and onward we'll march hand-in-hand into the New Century." Dense with literary allusions, puns, parodies, and whimsies in the British tradition from Gilbert & Sullivan to Monty Python: an extravagant, baroque variation on familiar themes (the New Woman, the abused woman, the bird in a gilded cage), offering sporadic but rich rewards to connoisseurs of historical/verbal fancy. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Angela Carter

Angela Carter was born in 1940. She lived in Japan, the United States and Australia. Her first novel, Shadow Dance, was published in 1965. Her next book, The Magic Toyshop, won the John Llewllyn Rhys Prize and the next, Several Perceptions, the Somerset Maugham Award. She died in February 1992.

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