Book Review – The Night Circus
Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday, 2011
Pages: Paperback Edition, 528 pages
Erin Morgenstern is a literary confectioner, creating environments and characters that appeal to many of the senses with their delicious and decadent imagery through her superb use of the English language. She weaves a tale of magic and mystery, with enough tragedy and romance to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Le Cirque de Rêves, or the Circus of Dreams, is unlike any other circus you’ll ever experience. Traveling across the world on an enchanted train, the circus appears out of nowhere and leaves just as swiftly, with little to no notice of where it may be heading next. Only able to be visited at night, the circus draws a large following of curious townsfolk as well as the rêveurs (dreamers) who follow it across continents for years and still only begin to scratch the surface of the magic within.
Instead of clowns, we are introduced to genuine illusionists disguised as performance magicians and a lesbian contortionist whose reason for involvement isn’t fully explained until the last two hundred pages. We meet twins, born from the magic of the circus itself, with the power to read the stars and their surroundings, as well as a farm boy who wants more from life than the sheep and apple orchard his family has planned for him.
Instead of the traditional circus Big Top or the elephants and Ringmaster, there are dozens of black and white striped tents, boasting wonders that are sure to inspire the imagination as well as reignite the visitor’s sense of wonder. From an indoor garden made of icy landscapes and sugar-scented sand to a living carousel and a maze made of clouds, the author creates a world so rich in detail and extravagance that you’ll feel like you’re really visiting this circus, and feel a sense of disappointment after turning the last few pages.
At the center of all the different characters, and of the circus itself, is the story of two young and incredibly talented illusionists, who have been predestined by their individual caregivers to be pawns in a game with rules, and repercussions, that they don’t fully understand until the very end. Celia and Marco are raised to compete against each other in a decades-long contest, but end up falling in love instead.
The story is told from multiple time periods and points of view so as to keep the reader involved in every development spanning over the course of the years within the book, covering from the late 1800s to the very early 1900s. Starting each new chapter brings more insight into the past and the creation of the circus itself, as well as into the present and the future, where the circus is only a small part of the larger story.
Some unfamiliar with this literary time travel may find it harder to get a foothold in the story, but those who have enjoyed such stories as The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger will find comfort in the technique and another level of appreciation for the story itself.
Erin does more than just describe the appearances of the characters and the sets of her story; she brings them alive through her story-within-a-storytelling that spans over the course of many years, and through many different lives. Each character is directly involved with the next, and the entire book is written from different angles, giving the reader the opportunity to fully appreciate each nuance and quirk of each character on their own, as well as their interactions with each other.
Many of the characters are simply pawns in a game created decades prior between two masters of illusion who, both claiming their way of teaching and using their talents was the better way, create a mandatory bond between Celia and Marco, star-crossed since before they knew the other even existed, forcing them into a future that would be seemingly beyond their control. Although partway through, the circus and the love between the two blend into a story all their own, and, while the story does end on a positive note, it may have been a teensy bit anticlimactic after all the tension and intrigue leading up to it.
Part passionate and problematic Shakespearesque love story, part fairy tale of an enchanted circus and the people associated with it, The Night Circus has a little bit of something for everybody, as any good circus should. Not intending to appeal to children specifically, Morgenstern creates a large group of characters that are adequately developed given the sheer volume of them and the constraint of keeping everything within an easily digestible 500+ page novel.
Being hailed as the next JK Rowling by the public, Erin Morgenstern displays a working knowledge of both the theatrics and the mystique behind a truly great circus in this stunning debut novel. The story has already been picked up as a screenplay by the inventive minds behind the Harry Potter and Twilight film franchises, altough I do personally believe that it would benefit from a loving touch by the hands of Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam, both masters of the dream-like film genre.
Regardless, I look forward to the film adaptation and any future upcoming books by Erin and urge everyone to pick up The Night Circus and discover the magic on your own!
* Reviewer’s Note: Despite the similarity between a certain character’s name with an actual figurehead of real circus history, this story has nothing to do with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I’d like to just let everyone know that, since I spent the better part of the last half of the book wondering if the Bailey character were a little more involved than I had initially thought. 😛