Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Published: Doubleday (September 13, 2011)
Pages: 391 (Hardcover)
Now that Erin Morgenstern has published her second novel, I figured it’s as good a time as any to finally write my review of The Night Circus. I’ve been putting off writing this review since I first read this book 3 years ago because I didn’t think I could do this book justice or accurately express what this book means to me. I still don’t. But, I’m going to give it a try anyway.
“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements preceded it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
I’m not going to give a highly detailed plot synopsis because I think this is a book that needs to experienced. The less you know going into it, the more you can let the story unfold around you. And find yourself transported to a world of striped tents and acrobatic displays, a marvelous black and white clock, and enchanting feats of magic and illusion.
Here is what you need to know: The Night Circus is the story of two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who are raised and trained to compete in a magical competition. What they don’t know is that the competition that will only end when one of them dies. Along the way they fall deeply in love. But, they still find themselves trapped in a game that they have very little control over, and one that holds the fate of all those involved with the circus in its grasp.
“I would have written you, myself, if I could put down in words everything I want to say to you. A sea of ink would not be enough.'”
“But you built me dreams instead.”
I think its important to note that while this story centers around a magical competition – it’s not what you might initially think of. There are no rules, and there is no offensive magic. Celia and Marco aren’t dueling face to face, but rather are presenting their skills for the circus patrons to prove they are the more talented magician. It’s told in a non-linear format, and from multiple POVs. While it can be a little jarring at first, once you get your bearings, the story is all the better for it. And, when the timelines come together and you see what Morgenstern was working towards it’s absolutely worth it. The Night Circus is a character driven story – and make no mistake, the circus is a character in its own right.
While Celia and Marco are the central story, there is so much more to The Night Circus than that. You get to see Le Cirque des Rêves from it’s inception; created at one of Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre’s midnight dinners. You see the impact the circus has on its creators, and the impact they have on it in return.
You follow Widget and Poppet (the only two children that are a part of the circus) and their burgeoning friendship with Bailey (a boy who is looking for something, even if he doesn’t quite know what that is). And, of course, there is Herr Thiessen, the clock maker and letter writer. His love for the circus matches my own. And if it were real, I’d be a Rêveur too.
“I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held. Trying to control what cannot be controlled. I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.”
So now that you know what its about, why should you read it?
Because it is undoubtedly the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read in my entire life. Morgenstern’s writing is lush and atmospheric and lyrical. You feel as if you are there with these characters as they navigate this competition and this world. It truly feels like an immersive experience.
This is a love story to be sure – but it is one of stolen glances and the brushing of hands. It’s also a story about finding your place in the world. It’s about struggling against the limitations placed on you by other people, and what it takes to chart a path for yourself. This is a story about a beautiful and magical circus. But, its also a story about people and the choices they make – for good or for ill.
“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.”
There are stories that you read because they’re fun; they make you laugh, or cry, or provide an escape from the realities of the world. Whether you read again and again or you only visit once, you remember them fondly. But, at the end of the day they are just stories.
And, then there are books that make you really feel some something. The words and the characters speak to you in a way that other books haven’t. Maybe they tell you a little something about yourself or have you look at the world in a different way. The story takes up residence in your heart. The characters feel like old friends. And, revisiting the world feels like going home.
This is one of those books.
Trigger Warnings: child abuse, self-harm, suicide