“Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is want to do.” –The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
(4.04 stars – Goodreads rating)
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / Romance
Publication Date: September 13, 2011, Doubleday Books
Pages: 516 (Paperback)
… I sometimes suspect the entirety of the circus is itself a complex illusion of illumination.
One of my fondest (and clearest) childhood memories is of the Barnum and Bailey Circus. My Uncle Syl would take me into the gigantic tent and I was simply amazed by all the spectacles. He would always buy me a caramel apple or some cotton candy – neither of which I could finish on my own (I think he counted on that!) – and we would stare, slack-jawed, at the animals and people doing amazing things all around us. So much was happening all at the same time that I could barely take it all in. It was… magical.
The magic of certain books is that they can pull you into a certain time and place that you only regrettably leave as you turn the final page. The Night Circus did that for me; first, by bringing back the memory of those nights at the circus with my Uncle Syl, and also by settling me into a world of wonder that I was not ready to leave, even after the acknowledgements.
Here’s the blurb: 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.
People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see.
Of course I am extremely late to the party on this book. It’s been out since 2011 and I’ve had it on my shelf for several years. But since this is September Shelf-Discipline month and Read-What-You-Own month, AND because Morgenstern’s second book, A Starless Sea, is going to be released in November of this year, it seemed only appropriate that I would randomly (magically) pick this title from my title jar this month.
The Night Circus feels like a book that I was meant to read. It is atmospheric and seductive, with an air of mystery in every chapter. This book has cryptic hints and it doesn’t want you to figure out everything at once. So, just like one of the Night Circus’ visitors, readers are at the mercy of the author to reveal her secrets in her own time.
I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark.
I’ve read many reviews of The Night Circus in the years prior to me actually reading it, so I knew that it is a book that you’re either a fan of, or that leaves you disappointed. I am gladly in the former group. It’s a book that has to be experienced rather than explained. And my experience was worthy of the five stars I gave it.
I find the characters equally familiar and enigmatic – so layered and complex, even as the author has tried to shield us from knowing much about them at all. The timeline is a mystery as well, bouncing between the reader’s present to the late 1800s with the inception of the circus and back to only a slightly later time in that future where every mysterious action is coming to a head.
And, finally, at the end when I felt the pages getting lighter in my hand and the action ramped up to its finale, I felt like I did as a child when the action in the middle of the three-ring circus reached its climax and the ringmaster said his final parting words and Uncle Syl would take my hand and lead me away from the tent, and the noise, and the smells of popcorn and caramel apples. It only left me wanting more.
Read more about Morgenstern’s sophomore novel, The Starless Sea, coming in November, 2019!
Erin Morgenstern is a writer and a multimedia artist who describes all her work as “fairy tales in one way or another.” She lives in Massachusetts. –bio taken from book cover.