Nights at the [Night] Circus

I’ve now almost finished our last BAGLADIES* selection, only a week and a bit after the meeting.  In my defence, we had two books to read over the summer – Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus and Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.  In the early days of BAGLADIES we always read two books and often found a range of unusual ways to link them – my favourite combination was Frankenstein and We Need to Talk About Kevin, but that’s another post.  These days, as many of us have husbands, kids and/or demanding jobs we stick to one and make an exception for the summer, as we don’t meet in August.  I’m pleased to report that the latest novels generated a lot of discussion and had more in common than the very similar titles.

The Night Circus – two friends recommended this to me in the same week I bought a copy, and before we chose it for BAGLADIES.  I loved it, to the point where I want to go to the Night Circus and explore for myself.  (There is an online experience, but I haven’t had a proper look yet.)  The slightly fleeting characterisation was intriguing, if occasionally infuriating as they slipped through your fingers, and fitted the tale (for it is definitely a tale) well.  The ultimate union of the two timelines was satisfying, even if the ending itself felt a little uncertain.  I found the two types of magic intriguing, as it seemed to fit the old patriarchal model of male magic (science and books) versus female magic (instinct and bodies) that goes back to Shakespeare’s The Tempest and probably much further. Oh, and it’s a really sweet love story…

Nights at the Circus – This was my suggestion, as I was sure I’d read it years ago and thought it would be an interesting comparison. I found an old copy at home, but on picking it up everything seemed brand new – a mark of a great novel or a clue that I didn’t read it the first time?  The feminist symbolism has perhaps dated a little – the significance of a large woman with wings and sword feels somewhat heavy-handed in post-third-wave, post-post-feminism 2012, but the metaphors were innovative for 1984 and the magic realism means they still work without distracting from the story (or tale, again).  Also a love story, amongst other things, this reminded me why I like Carter and made me want to read more of her weightier novels, though her collection of short stories (The Bloody Chamber) remains my favourite.

* Blackheath And Greenwich Literature And Drinking In the Evening Society


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