Book Review

Nights At The Circus By Angela Carter

Photo on 25-04-2013 at 08.13 #2

At the risk of losing my hard-won feminist credentials, I’m not certain I really enjoyed this.

The first hundred pages or so – which recount the life-to-date of an allegedly winged trapeze artist (an aerialiste) presented in a narrative led by a newspaper interviewer, I found very trying. Conradesque, in it’s way, of having the narrative reported as conversation, but less engaging (strangely) than a man talking about boats.

This first part played a lot with the idea of magic, the notions of what is real and what isn’t. Which I hated. I like a book, a narrative, a novel, to present a fully realised and believable life, world, whatever. I’m happy to suspend disbelief and pretend magic is real if I’m asked to, but to be repeatedly asked to debate with myself whether or not it is, I found a little tiresome. However, in my eyes, the book picked up a lot more when the narrative perspective shifted and everything – including the non-naturalistic elements – began to be taken more at face value. I like the feeling of truth, the feeling of honesty, the feeling of an insight. Which, by the end, I was perhaps getting.

As I write this, and think about what I’m going to write, I’m talking myself into liking the book more than I did. Because I can see what Carter was trying to do – she is dextrous, she is verbose, she is witty, she is politicised, she makes narrative, digressional sojourns, she explores a whole variety of characters and places in the time and environments she has created… Which are well put together, well-written, funny and – crucially – inventive. I applaud and agree with the rousing feminist speeches that grow in their obviousness as the book goes on, I liked Fevvers, the protagonist, I liked characters, I liked scenes, I liked lots of it, I liked the playing with time (actually, no, scratch that one, I didn’t. In hindsight I like it, I didn’t like it as I read it), I liked the imagery, I liked the aesthetic… I like this book a lot more now I’ve read it than I did while I went through it.

So, I suppose, my ill-thought-out breakfast point is thus: the fact that I can think of more to praise about this book than to directly criticise acknowledges it does possess innate literary value. However, the fact that I didn’t enjoy reading it at all until about halfway through (and still thought Carter came across as smug right until the end) means it does lack something…

I don’t regret reading it, but I doubt I’d recommend it.


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