Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Magical Fiction, Fantasy, Phantasmagorical Literature
“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.”
Now, if you’re like me, dear reader, you’ll have bookshelves in your room that are full to the brim with unread books that have never been organised, opened or touched past the initial removal from the Amazon packet or the Waterstones bag. In my tiny room at home, I have three floor-to-ceiling high bookshelves that are triple layered with books, and only about one-fifth of these have been read. There is even a Japanese word for this – ‘Tsundoku’. It is a real affliction for all us book lovers, and one that has no end, but just get progressively worst.
And, like me, I’m sure that you have little gems of novels tucked away that you picked up one day, bought and said ‘Yes, this is next on my list’, and whenever you rediscover it on your shelf, you have that little stab of guilt.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus was one of these books. I could see it every single day, drawing my eye in with the bold title, and gorgeous cover, but it was only recently that I finally grabbed it, and tucked it into my bag to become my train companion.
Published in 2011, and compared significantly to Harry Potter or Twilight, The Night Circus is a phantasmagorical historical novel, set against the backdrop of a myste
rious circus that appears on the outskirts of towns without warning or promotion, and it entrances all those who wander in. Alongside this circus – which also has intersecting chapters where you, as the reader, is put into the novel and you get to walk through the circus and get all the sensory experience of the circus – the plot focuses on two magicians – Hector Bowen, a public personality who performs under the guise of Prospero the Enchanter, and the other man, figure who is only referred as ‘the man in the grey suit’ or ‘Mr. A. H-‘ – and their profound rivalry which has spanned over countless generations, and has been played out as a ‘battle’ between their appointed pupils. And in this novel, Bowen decides to appoint his only daughter Celia as his chosen player, and his rival chooses a nameless orphan, who decides to be called Marco Alisdair. Following tutelage, both Marco and Celia start to develop significant powers of illusion, and are permanently bound and aware of the competition that they both are involved in, despite not meeting their adversary.
And alongside this competition, the reader gets to know about the origin of the Night Circus. Initially a creation by a producer called M Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre and more subtly, Mr. A. H-, it becomes obvious that the workings of the circus, the magical draw of it, and even the structure and tents, all stem from Marco and Celia and their conflict which manifests itself in each creating spectacles in an attempt to outdo the other. But, when the inevitable meeting does happen, Marco and Celia both find themselves falling in love with each other, and their battle becomes not only a test of their powers, but also in whether they can escape their drawn-out competition and rewrite their own fates, together.
Now, the plot is promising. And whilst writing the summary down here, I was reminded how involved I was in the story, and how much I wanted Marco and Celia to get together, and how impossible it all seemed. Morgenstern wrote Celia to appear to be a fragile beauty, but the strength of her desire for freedom, and her powers, made the reader really warm to her. And the same with Marco. Their love seems boundless, passionate and sensual, and that makes for very enjoyable reading. But, it wasn’t necessarily the plot that kept me going through the book, or even the sweet side-stories about the red-haired circus twins, Poppet and Widget or the clock-maker, Thiessen, but the sheer beauty of the writing, and description. Morgenstern has created a beautiful world, and one that is equipped with all the sensory flavours that you, as a reader, wants to experience. The description of the circus, the food, the clothing, and the individual tents makes you desperately want to visit it, and it has the right level of Victorian-historical-whimsy that is befitting a YA novel. However, for some readers, it may be a bit too much of a whimsical novel, and so sweet it may be cavity-inducing.
Another thing that I felt slightly off-putting about this novel is that sometimes it felt a bit confusing and the writing wasn’t particularly clear, and unfortunately, all in all, the ending did not feel entirely satisfying when you consider it against the novel as a whole. With a climax of the novel, it should be wham-bam-clear-and-in-your-face-exciting, but this felt a bit short to me. It seemed as though Morgenstern had an excellent idea of what she wanted to do, but she couldn’t quite convey it in the right way.
But, this novel does focus on the dreamlike, illusion and magic, so it could just be Morgenstern tried to write in this fashion. However, for a young adult novel, this one doesn’t fall short to be a good and satisfying read, the magic doesn’t feel too whimsical or forced, and the characters are written in a good way. I’d thoroughly recommend it!
So, if you as a reader, enjoyed:
- The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
- The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
- Circus of the Unseen by Joanne Owen
Then you’ll love this!
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