Oh, man. I really feel like I’ve been to the circus. A crazy, trippy sci-fi circus, but still. Enough to go around. I’ve heard Angela Carter’s name bandied about the contemporary British field/feminist literature field, and this work in particular, so I thought it would be good to know my field even better.
The novel takes place in three parts, for the three major “stages” of the circus’s trip: London, St. Petersburg, and Siberia. In London, we become acquainted with Sophie Fevvers through journalist Jack Walser, who is writing a piece on the circus in town. Fevvers is a woman who has wings. That is, she has arms and wings, and is considered to have been “hatched” and abandoned, since she is rumored not to have a belly button. We find out about her storied past with her adopted foster mother, Lizzie, a former prostitute turned caretaker. The lives of women take a focal point as Fevvers is treated alternately like an exotic woman and a freakshow, which makes her placement as the main attraction at a circus quite fascinating. Walser decides to follow Fevvers to the circus as it continues to Russia, and there the story takes many turns–we get to know other individuals and their stories, as well as find out how Fevvers is treated by those who try to court and purchase her.
If you like contemporary fiction with a touch of magical realism, you will probably enjoy this book. I had a hard time initially understanding what the heck I was reading, but I was pulled into the story by Carter’s writing and the issues surrounding the novel. I think this would make a nice accompaniment to Jeanette Winterson, especially if you’re thinking about the way we write and configure the female body in contemporary fiction.