Name of Book: The Night Circus
By: Erin Morgenstern
Copyright Date: September 13, 2011
Format: fantastical fiction
Reason for Reading: July bookclub selection. Also, this has been on my TBR list since it blew up the blogosphere last fall.
Source: borrowed from my neighbor
I am having difficulty finding words to accurately sum up this book so I am going to cheat a bit and quote from the publisher’s description:
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 both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing.
I’ve been wanting to read this one since it arrived on the scene last fall. Book bloggers were fawning all over it and I did succumb to the hype a bit. It sounded like my kind of story full of intrigue and magic and heartbreak. Was the hype warranted? For this particular blogger, a hands down YES.
First, let’s go over the aesthetics. I love me some aesthetics. When done well it enhances the pleasure derived from the reading experience. From the moment the cover is flipped open, the eye is full of black and white pinstripes. That right there let me know I was in for an adventure and a treat. The atmosphere was already being crafted before a single word was read.
The story is told from the beginning with vignettes describing the circus experience interspersed throughout. These pages are special: the particular way the type is laid out, the circus’ signature black and white stripes surrounding the script. There are pages with the night sky and her celestial configurations demarcating certain sections. For this reader, these additional elements were part of the superb crafting of this mysterious night circus world.
These additional elements are just that, extraneous. Morgenstern does a fine job of world building and creating atmosphere with words alone. She draws on all the senses. Through her carefully chosen words I could smell the caramel-scented air, taste the licorice-tailed chocolate mice, feel the warmth of a mug of steaming spiced cider. I could fully envision the master clock with all of its wondrous surprises revealed by the hour. I could feel the cold of the night on my skin and see the brightness of the stars. I was completely ensconced in the world of white, black, and grey with a splash of scarlet. Oh, and it is set in Victorian England, which only helped create more ambiance.
All of this beautiful world creating would fall flat if the characters weren’t just as divine. Thankfully that is not the case here. The characters are fully realized, each with their own complex motivations, quirks, and flaws. I cared deeply about the characters and will admit to tearing up at several moments. Morgenstern is not afraid to put main characters in peril nor is she afraid to leave some of them there. There is so much happening inside the lovely, mysterious night world. Dueling magicians, unrequited love and forbidden love, an unending challenge, an underground society of circus lovers who follow it everywhere.
As much as I enjoyed this book, I can see how this book would not appeal to everyone. The story jumps back and forth in time revealing tidbits of information. I flipped back and forth a lot as things clicked. Flashback storytelling is one of my favorite modes. I enjoy the tantalizing reveal of things that don’t make sense until they do. This can be annoying for other readers.
While this book is rooted in the real world, it is very much fantastical. The world of the night circus reveals the world of magic that lurks beneath the surface of everyday life. In the world Morgenstern creates, magic is very much a real thing that can be taught, learned, and innately inherited.
With that caveat, if you are one for magic and intrigue, Victorian London and atmospheric reading, enjoy!
Last Words: A truly delicious, fantastical tale of magic, love, and loss.