All the fun of the fair (or circus)

Readers I’ve noticed a little something of late, thanks in part to my reading A Girl Made Of Air – I love a book set in a circus. 

Now yes I am aware that it is very niche, but bear with me on this one. 

Lyrical and inventive, A Girl Made of Air is a book which will totally captivate you. There were moments which were both strange and extraordinary which then blended with the heart-breaking and recognisable. This is the story of The Greatest Funambulist Who Ever Lived, who remains unnamed throughout. We are treated to the story of her life. From an unwanted and forgotten child, to her salvation by the flame-haired Serendipity Wilson, and then her becoming the darling of New York society.

Unsurprisingly A Girl Made of Air has drawn comparisons to Erin Morgenstern and Angela Carter’s works, primarily because of its setting (the circus) and its genre (magical realism). And that is what got me thinking about my love of a literary circus. 

The big top, and all its characters, are naturally inclined to magical realism. This is a genre which looks to paint a recognisable and realistic world which is coloured by magic; what else is a circus if not that? Rolling into town it brightens the mundane, and promises the magical and extraordinary. Of course we know it isn’t real, just as with all fiction, but it’s nice for a moment to find oneself lost in that conjury. 

And of course the reality of the circus, of a life on the road filled with uncertainty, provides the grime to temper the glamour and glitter and to stop it all seeming too fanciful, though perhaps not in Morgenstern’s. Her circus really is more of a fairytale, filled with impossible magic and spectacle – it really demands that its reader suspend disbelief and allow themselves to be dazzled. This is the circus of our childhoods. 

Angela Carter offers up a narrative which is a postmodern, feminist fairy tale. Whilst her circus is full of whimsy it is also dark and dangerous. It is the story of Sophie Fevvers, a winged woman hatched from an egg laid by unknown parents. Like the unmanned narrator of A Girl Made Of Air she is an aerialist. The circus provides Carter with a canvas on which to unleash her creativity in all its crazed brilliance. 

Reading about the circus then provides escapism, allows for whimsical but haunted characters and provides a little bit glitter in the everyday. 

Can you think of any other books set under a big top which have captivated you?

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