"How long have we been grinding through Limbo?"

The final section of the novel, beginning with the journey into the wilderness, casts all of the circus troupe into a kind of Limbo from which they must be reborn into the new century.  In Catholic theology, Limbo is an in-between state between Heaven and Hell, an afterlife for unbaptised babies and a waiting place for the righteous until Jesus’ crucifixion allowed them to enter heaven.  Between his death and resurrection, it is believed that Jesus descended to Limbo to release the souls trapped there to their final resting places.  Whilst Limbo does not appear in the Bible or in formal Catholic doctrine, it is recognised in popular culture and mediaeval theories of Hell.

The word 'Limbo' is of Teutonic derivation, meaning a hem, edge or anything joined on (ie a limb).  In literature and common usage it also suggests a place of restraint, a prison, an in between space or a a state of nothingness.  From nothingness, it is possible to be reborn; and so the emptiness of Siberia, the long, listless days on the train, the lack of an audience for whom to perform, all conspire to return the circus troupe  to a symbolic state of unbeing in order to emerge, in the final section, as truer versions of themselves.  The old century is dying away, and by entering Limbo, Fevvers, Walser and the company are preparing to emerge afresh into the new.

Further down the same page, Carter refers back to Buffo's absence, to the clowns waiting 'for their Christ to rise again'.  Just as Jesus descended to Limbo after his crucifixion, the circus has entered the same state immediately after the loss of the clown-god and awaits some sign or release in order to leave it again.