Enter the topsy-turvy world of Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus where you will travel from London to Petersburg to Siberia, where you will encounter waltzing tigers, literate chimpanzees, introspective elephants, a clairvoyant pig, and where you will meet a motley crew of very unusual characters. Best of all, you will go on this raucous journey with the inimitable Fevvers— a part woman, part swan hybrid. She is a tall, statuesque aerieliste with a penchant for spouting earthy, no-nonsense wisdom in her delightful Cockney accent.
We first encounter Fevvers as she is being interviewed by Jack Walser, an American journalist. She claims to have been hatched from an egg; abandoned; raised in a brothel by Lizzie, her surrogate mother and constant companion; sprouts wings; learns to fly; and joins Colonel Kearney’s circus to become the talk of Europe with her dazzling skills on the trapeze. Walser falls in love with her and decides to join the same circus disguised as a clown to unearth her secrets. What follows is a rollicking ride from one bizarre event to another, parts of which are told in Fevvers’ raunchy dialog infused with feminism and a gritty, down-to-earth perspective.
Angela Carter takes the reader on a magical carpet ride. The price of admission is to abandon the world of reality and logical thought. Her prose is brisk, colorful, engaging, and smattered with some inspirational words from Shakespeare, Blake, and Yeats among others, as well as with the occasional dip into scatological humor. Her abrupt shifts in points of view keep readers on their toes. One never quite knows what to expect. We are hurtled from one bizarre happening to another—much like a trapeze artist soaring in mid-air with no knowledge of where one will land or what awaits upon landing.
This is an exhilarating ride made all the more delightful because we are accompanying the thoroughly enchanting, totally unconventional Fevvers. In her cockney accent, swan’s feathers, larger-than-life body, gritty wisdom, and voracious appetite, what’s not to love?