Angela Carter and St Petersburg

I’m finally catching up with the work of Angela Carter, a writer who’s been on my to-read list for years, now. I’ve begun with “Nights at the Circus”, which I’m enjoying very much, if enjoy is the right word given the miserable lives of many of the protagonists: of a traumatised abuse victim repressing her memories and having no thought of the future, she writes, beautifully and heart-breakingly, “she was the broken blossom of the present tense”.

Still, this is not an in-depth review, more of a “coo, look at this”. The action has shifted to fin de siecle St Petersburg, and I can’t help thinking that Carter must have both visited Leningrad (the book was first published in 1984) and not enjoyed it: “a city stuck with lice and pearls”, and, later, “All was elegant, even sumptuous, finished with a heavy, rather queasy luxury that always seemed to have grime under its fingernails.” That last is a description that rings true to me all these years on, perhaps even more so in the post-Soviet era.

But I want to leave you with this image, seen by a dazed American journalist who is posing as a clown in order to be close to the main female character, the mysterious winged aerialiste Fevvers:

… now peering at the great horseman on his plinth with a vague terror, as though the horseman were not the effigy of the city’s founder but the herald of four yet more mythic horsemen who are, indeed, on their way to confound Petersburg forever, though they won’t arrive yet, not quite yet.

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