"In those few seconds of his lapse of consciousness, Fevvers ran helter-skelter down the platform"

It is from this point forward that Nights at the Circus truly enters the realm of magical realism.  Up to now, the unlikely has been treated with Walser's journalistic scepticism and even the possibility of Fevvers' existence is repeatedly brought into doubt.  Now, as she travels into the egg to rejoin the genuine Trans-Siberian Express in a matter of seconds, the reader is left to form his or her own conjectures as to what is true, how it is possible, and whether it matters.

Magical realism is a genre of art and literature which places magical elements within a convincingly real universe, using the fantastic to highlight or deepen the exploration of reality.  There is no sense of wonder or the unusual in the placing of magic; Fevvers' existence, then, is not magical realism in that she does inspire awe, whereas her journey back to the train falls into the genre since nobody expresses the slightest surprise at it.  Other examples earlier in the novel include some of Lizzie's spells and to some extent the stopping of time in Walser's initial interview - although he questions its cause, he spends little time questioning its probability.  The final section of the book in Siberia asks the reader to accept the improbable repeatedly.

The world of magical realism can be dizzying and confusing, since the supernatural and strange cannot be overtly explained; to do so would render it different to the everyday occurences around it, and thus bring its existence into question.  The art of magical realism lies in presenting the magic as the equivalent to the real, and in drawing no line of separation between the two.  Where the unreal is explained with any apparent rationality, the genre slips into science fiction.

Magical realism is a 20th century genre, and its roots are often said to lie in Latin American writing, with authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-) and Isabel Allende (1942-) excelling in the genre.  In the English speaking world, Carter herself emerges as a leading light alongside Salman Rushdie (1947-), Louis de Bernieres (1954-) and Toni Morrison (1931-), whilst Gunter Grass (1927-) and Haruki Murakami (1949) take it to Germany and Japan.

Read more about magical realism online:

Serendipity - an online magazine

Margin - an online magazine