rating: 4 of 5 stars
A truly unique and unusual work of magical realism!
It is the cusp of the 20th century in Europe. Sophie Fevvers is a Cockney aerialiste extraordinaire who works in a travelling circus. She isn’t built like the typical trapeze artist…she stands at over 6 feet tall and is sturdily built. Oh, and she was born with wings and claims to be half human-half swan.
Fevvers captures the attention of Jack Walser, a young American journalist who is writing an article called “Great Humbugs of the World” and hopes to expose Fevvers as a fake. Fevversregales him with tales of her life as an orphan and her time spent working in a brothel.
“Lor’ love you, sir!” Fevverssang out in a voice that clanged like dustbin lids. “As to my place of birth, why, I first saw the light of day right here in smoky old London, didn’t I! Not billed the ‘Cockney Venus’, for nothing, sir, though they could just as well ‘ave called me ‘Helen of the High Wire’, due to the unusual circumstances in which I come ashore – for I never docked via what you might call the normal channels, sir, oh, dear me, no; but, just like Helen of Troy, was hatched.
Jack quickly becomes infatuated with Fevversand joins the circus as a clown in order to be able to spend more time with her. The circus travels to Russia, where the excitement and pace of circus life only increases.
Nights at the Circus was originally published in 1984. It was released to mix critical reviews, but it had popular acclaim. Nights at the Circus won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1984.
This book is a fantastical romp, with quick changes between points of view and narrators, lots of sex and circus intrigue and scandal. Nights at the Circus contains political undertones and themes of gender roles. Carter prompts the reader to “briefly contemplate the unimaginable”. The tale is dark, crude and imaginative and not for the faint of heart. The ending was a slight letdown, which is what made me rate the book 4 stars instead of 5.
This is the first work of Carter’s that I have read, but it’s spurred me on to seek out more of her work.