In this age of algorithms, websites pump out recommendations like air. Last month, after finishing The Night Circus, Goodreads suggested that I read Nights at the Circus. Not surprising, given how similar the titles and subject matter are, though I’d never heard of the book so promptly ignored the suggestion. Or so I thought. Enough of the title lodged itself in my subconscious that a few days later while reading an article on women in British literature, I came across the statement that during the 1990s, Angela Carter was the most added author to university literature courses. I paused, recognizing the name and I went back to double-check Nights at the Circus.
Angela Carter, who died in 1992 at the rather young age of 52, had by then gained a reputation as a strong feminist literary voice. The impression I had from only a few pages of Nights at the Circus, is that Carter might have been quite at home among the women of A.S. Byatt’s masterful Possession, released only the year before.
Although both Nights at the Circus and The Night Circus start with turn of the century London circuses, they are very different novels. Whereas The Night Circus is full of vivid neo-gothic, Romantic imagery all swirling around a pair of magical lovers, Nights at the Circus is a bawdy, Candide-style tale of farcical missteps. Similarly, while both circuses travel the globe, it is in Nights at the Circus where the deliberate eastern progress of the troupe appears to match the heightened chaos of the circus. Carter’s circus is unpredictable and dangerous.
With eyes to the east, I’ve been drinking the Vienna Roast from Cochrane Coffee Traders, a small town just outside Calgary. I recently finished up a spate of work there and was rewarded with a collection of CCR beans as part of a farewell gift. During my former studies in European history, Vienna became intimately linked with notions of the Old World and the grandeur of fallen empires. Sitting at the European crossroads of east and west for much of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, its bustling and nocturnal sprawling coffee-house culture always seemed the opposite of the intimate, sunlit Italian al fresco cafes I was more familiar with. The rich, slightly smoky, flavour of the beans provides a suitable backdrop to Carter’s work. It’s easy to imagine Walser or Fevver popping out for a quick post-performance cup.