Friday, 27 June 2014

Nights at the Circus, by Angela Carter

4.5 stars

All Cockney but definitely no sparrow, Fevvers in instead part-woman, part-swan. Hatched from an egg, abandoned on a doorstep, and raised in a bordello, Fevvers has grown up to be the world’s greatest aerialiste. Listening to her tall tale whilst sat amongst her unwashed knickers and tokens from admirers is journalist Jack Walser. Soon smitten, Jack joins the circus in which she’s the star attraction, and then we’re off...

Instead of joining the rest of the crowd in the stands, we take a peek under the tent-flaps where it reeks not of greasepaint and cotton candy but of stale vodka-breath and tiger shit, and we get to see the people (and animals) behind those painted on smiles. Run by Colonel Kearney, who takes advice from his pig Sybil, the circus’s menagerie of characters include the brutal Ape-Man and his incredible troop of chimps, a Strong Man who’s learning that love doesn’t mean possession and a troop of sad and, at times, homicidal clowns. But more than anything it’s the female characters, presented in all of their fleshy, earthy glory, that stand out and none more so than Fevvers – although she’s given more than a run for her money by poor, horribly abused Mignon, clothed in bruises and crusted semen, being reborn in the loving arms of the mute tiger-taming Princess.

Brilliantly mixing the magic of fairytales and the stinkily real, Angela Carter is one very interesting writer indeed.

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