Nights at the Circus

(by Angela Carter)

What a shame. This book seemed like something I would like. It has magic realism, lots of champagne and blizzards. But I didn’t like it at all. I give it two out of five stars. One is for the previously mentioned arbitrary aspects, and the other is for the original ideas and the occasional brilliance. The minus three are for the sheer tedium of it all (plod plod plod), the disconnectedness, the episodic structure and the perpetual showing off. Too much like a creative writing exercise in atmosphere. Endless attempts to shock and surprise. I just didn’t care what happened to anyone and half the time what did happen was coincidental or contrived.

Here is an example of the more heavy-handed passages (sorry it is so long, but that’s not my fault):-

(A poor and overworked baboushka uses bellows to blow on the charcoal under a samovar).
“…those immemorial hands of hers slowly parted and came together again just as slowly, in a hypnotically repeated gesture that was as if she were about to join her hands in prayer.
About to join her hands in prayer. But always, at the very last moment, as if it came to her there was something about the house that must be done first, she would start to part her hands again. Then Martha would turn back into Mary and protest to the Martha within her: what can be more important than praying? Nevertheless, when her hands were once more almost joined, that inner Martha recalled the Mary to the indeed perhaps more important thing, whatever it was ….And so on. Had the bellows been invisible, such would have been the drama of the constantly repeated interruption of the sequence, so that, when the old woman blew on the charcoal with the bellows, it should have been, if a wind had come and whipped away the bellows, a little paradigm of the tension between the flesh and the spirit, although ‘tension’ would have been altogether too energetic a word for it, since her weariness modified the pace of this imaginary indecision to such an extent that, if you did not know her, you would think that she was lazy.
And more than this, her work suggested a kind of infinite incompleteness – that a woman’s work is never done; how the work of all the Marthas, and all the Marys, too, all the work, both temporal and spiritual in this world, and in preparation for the next, will never be over – always some conflicting demand will occur to postpone indefinitely any and every task. So…there was no need to hurry! Which was just as well, because she was…almost…worn out.
All Russia was contained within the thwarted circumscription of her movements; and much of the essence of her abused and withered femaleness. Symbol and woman, or symbolic woman, she crouched before the samovar.
The charcoal grew red, grew black, blackened and reddened to the rhythm of wheezing sighs that might just as well have come from the worn-out lungs of the baboushka as from her bellows. her slow, sombre movements, her sombre, slow speech, were filled with the dignity of the hopeless”.

I almost gave up at this point but,  had I have not gone on, I would have missed the rather good later chapter about the clowns’ “dance of disintegration”.

Overall – facile, shallow and glittery.


[Riposte by P: Try “The Bloody Chamber”.]


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