Thursday Book

Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter

Jack Walser, American journalist, has secured an interview with the famous aerialiste, "Fevvers", also known as the "Cockney Venus", a woman who claims to have been hatched from an egg with fully functional wings. Intending to debunk her as a fraud, Walser instead falls in love, and runs away with the circus to follow her across Russia. But with Fevvers an accomplished egoist and Walser very much a man of the Victorian era, it's not clear that either of them could ever bring one another happiness. Then again, this is the cusp of the onrushing twentieth century - so who knows what's really possible?

A barefaced work of literature that makes few, if any, concessions to marketability, Nights at the Circus is brazen, provocative and slippery, luring you in with strong writing and a bizarre cast of impossible characters, then bamboozling you with imagery both magical and political. Deposited at the end, dazed and confused, I can only conclude that I really like the thing. The final chapter, in particular, answers the question of what Fevvers "is" in a way that I found unexpectedly beautiful.

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