Classics Club Spin – Nights at the Circus

Photo of a St Petersburg canal

I finally finished my Classics Club spin book, Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter, on the very last day of the challenge. Not because it was a particularly hard read, it wasn’t, but because it was one of the few books I didn’t already own and when it arrived I suddenly had almost no reading time. Due to my lateness, and even more due to the fact that I’m currently somewhat overworked and completely uninspired, I won’t give this novel the proper review it really deserves.

Published in 1984 it is one of the youngest books on my classics list, one I added to my list after being stunned by her brilliant short story collection The Bloody Chamber and other stories. Most of the novels I have read lately have been sharp, restrained texts but Carter’s is neither. Indeed Angela Carter may be the least restrained author I have read anything by, she is constantly pushing the border between brilliance and nonsense. Her imagery is rich, disturbing and always on the brink of collapse but somehow it mostly works. I left the novel with a wide collection of imagery and ideas but the over-abundance of the text is such that I know that I probably missed half of it. As a break from the more focused texts I usually read I found it very refreshing but my recommendation if you want to explore Angela Carter’s works would be to start with The Bloody Chamber and other stories which remains my favourite.

Last year this book was discussed in a series of articles for The Guardian‘s reading group. I really recommend this article series if you are interested in in-depth discussions of the novel. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 (with some spoilers).




13 thoughts on “Classics Club Spin – Nights at the Circus

  1. I haven’t read this one but I recently read her book The Passion of New Eve and I wasn’t that impressed with it, it’s definitely strange. I will look out for The Bloody Chamber and other stories though.

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    1. I haven’t read that one but my impression is that it is one of her harder ones to like, perhaps not in style but in content.

      The Bloody Chamber and other stories also contains a very rich and somewhat disorientating writing but perhaps slightly toned down compared to some of her other works. I also feel that Carter’s style really benefits from the short story format, it is easier to appreciate an over-abundance in small pieces.


  2. I’ve never got on very well with short stories, but realised recently that I should have another go at them (and I have Katherine Mansfield’s on my challenge list), I’ll add the Bloody Chamber to some I should try. Thank you for saying that you felt ‘completely uninspired’, I often feel like that but think I’m the only one! Thank goodness your spin wasn’t Anna Karenina!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Or Heimskringla which is almost as thick but includes the stories of Norwegian Kings of old. I’m not sure why I added it to my list, probably just the feeling that if I live in Norway and own a copy of it I really should read it…. At least Tolstoy is an excellent writer.

      Short stories are a new discovery for me too but as with short novels I’ve come to appreciate stories that doesn’t require such a time investment. Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter and Tove Jansson write some of my favourite. I’ve also found it an excellent way to find new authors, I’m currently slowly reading through the anthology “African Love Stories” which is giving me some excellent suggestions of authors I should try..

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I can see it’s a way in to new authors. Murakami I’m going to start with his short stories as I seem to be the only person in the world who has never read Norwegian Wood! I like the thought of Norwegian Kings of old. . .

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I haven’t read a full Murakami either. I once started on Norwegian Wood and quite enjoyed it but unfortunately I read someone else’s copy and had to return it before I got very far. Another time maybe.

        I also kind of like the thought of Norwegian Kings of old, but not of the thought of reading 660 pages of it…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The hurrying may have been partly a good thing, it made me focus rather than spending all my time online…

      I liked it but it was a bit weird also compared to the previous books I’ve read by her. I would start with The Bloody Chamber or possibly The Moving Toyshop if you haven’t read anything by her and decide to try. I suspect she is a bit of an acquired taste.

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