{Book Review} The Night Circus

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.”*

I have never been to the circus. I know, it’s really sad. I have heard so much about it, but the circus is still something of an enigma to me. There are stories of trapeze swingers and fire eaters, and it really saddens me how I’ve never witnessed any of those, which was why I was particularly drawn to this new book, which was released just September of last year. Aside from my lack of circus experience as the reason for picking this up, I also liked the echoes of the movie The Prestige that were eminent in the synopsis at the back cover. I am sucker for stories like that, so I eagerly devoured this as well.

“The circus arrives without warning.”

This is the opening line of Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel “The Night Circus”, and you’ve got to admit, that line’s really strong. It feels like the type of line people would say first as they grapple about how to describe this novel. I finished this book the other day but I couldn’t bring myself to write a review since I had a Lit midterm yesterday. Now that I got that out of the way, I can finally spazz about how much I loved this book! I have heard nothing but good reviews about this book, and I must say, I was not disappointed. In fact, I liked it so much I’m planning to have the UK HB edition delivered (because it’s so pretty and totally worth it). Before I explain why I love this book so much, though, let me give you a little preview.

This book is set in 19th century England, but it sometimes shows up in other timelines and LOTS of other places, so be prepared. It’s about two magicians, representing two schools of thought, pitting their students against each other in a competition which would only end if one of them dies. One of the students is Celia Bowen, daughter of famous magician commonly known as Prospero the Enchanter, while the other is Marco Alisdair, protege of a certain Mr. A. H—- (though it has been revealed at one point that his real name is Alexander). Celia and Marco fall in love, which further complicates things. Their duel, which lasts a lifetime (literally), involves a circus called Le Cirque des Reves, which differs from other circuses by having multiple tents instead of only one, open only at night, and leaves without notice of where its next location might be. Apart from that, there’s something about the circus that rings true to its English translation, the Circus of Dreams. There are the usual attractions of acrobats, fortune tellers, Hall of Mirrors, and illusionists, but there are more curiously named attractions such as the Wishing Tree, the Cloud Maze, and the Labyrinth. Things are more than what they seem, and in Le Cirque des Reves, the illusions are so real they could be magic, which they very well are.

The Night Circus is told from several points of view, more than ten of them, not placed in a linear order. What adds to this book’s charm is how each chapter is reminiscent of the circus: brief, but enough to keep you hooked. Morgenstern employs imagery and vivid descriptions of the setting, leaving you with sensory overload and a desire to go to the circus, and to travel around the world, as the circus does.

What I really liked about this book is how it doesn’t focus on the romantic aspect. I mean, it’s there, but somehow it doesn’t turn the whole story into a pile of pink mush. It is there to push the story along, and is told as the story of two people within the story, because even though Celia and Marco were the ones focused on, you could tell how important all the other characters were. The circus is described in such detail, but how it actually looks is left to your own interpretation. It is such a vital part of the story that somehow I think it is a character and not a setting, because even though it is not indicated, you know the circus breaths and thrives and survives as much as the other characters do. The characters, the attractions, the decorations, everything makes the circus, and somehow the circus also makes them. It’s rather complicated to explain, but if you read it you’ll see what I mean. Another thing I commend is Erin Morgenstern’s writing. Her prose is sophisticated and it doesn’t feel wordy at all. Her words are appropriate for the setting, and she leaves just enough for you to reflect on long after you’ve read the final words. I have been researching her while reading this book (that’s how much I love it) and I found out that she is also an artist. She said in one interview, “I write what I can’t paint and I paint what I can’t write” which, for me, adds a lot of amazing points.

Like I mentioned before, The Night Circus is told in a nonlinear fashion. In one chapter everything’s from your point of view, in the present day, while in the next it is in 19th century England from the point of view of a magician. The next chapter could occur decades into the future. It seems confusing at first, but the more you read the more it makes sense. Details that seem mundane and something mentioned in passing are reiterated in another scene, and suddenly they are important. I remember doubling back after I read a detail about the scent of ginger and cream that I read several pages ago. It’s become like an Easter egg hunt, and it makes me want to read the book again just so I can find everything.

I recommend this for everyone, even if fantasy isn’t really your genre of choice. Let is sweep you away! It offers more than you would expect from a story about a circus and its folk, because it’s got a bit of everything in it. At some point in the story you’ll find adventure, mystery, romance, even a bit of the paranormal, and all of these elements come together in a glorious mix that will keep you reading all day and night. Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel is impressive, and I couldn’t wait to read more of her work. It is confusing at first, but I tell you to stick with it and it all comes together, as it should.


In a nutshell…

Rating: 4/5
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Original Language: English
Published: 2011, Doubleday, New York
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance
P.S. I heard Summit Entertainment got the film rights to this book. I got mixed feelings about it, but I’m glad they recognize the beauty of the book enough to turn it into a movie.
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