This is a complex, multifaceted story, told with humor, hyperbole, and biting irony. Thinking critically about the assumptions on which our lives are based, taking real and figurative journeys of self-discovery, questioning patriarchal values and notions of commodification, and determining who defines identity are just a few of its themes.
Nights at the Circus is divided into three geographically delineated parts: London, Petersburg, and Siberia, through which the main characters travel together and individually. The narrative progression away from the familiar (Britain) toward increasingly exotic locales also moves the reader ever deeper into the world of magic. Throughout this journey, the novel mercilessly teases its readership, undermining our expectations while challenging and subverting any number of conventions, by parodying the genres of Romance, Myth, and so on.
The magical realist dimension is often at least partially Utopian, an unreal fantasy whereby a subversive political message can be conveyed. Nonetheless, it here steadfastly refuses to offer readers an uncomplicated, escapist fictional reality. To the "army of lovers" in the final third of the book who escape from prison, "the white world around them looked newly made, a blank sheet of fresh paper on which they could inscribe whatever future they wished." This absurdly romantic ideal is mocked, however. They may set out to found a perfect female-only community, but are...
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