Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. 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 what they might do because of it, because of your words. – from The Night Circus, page 381 -
“The circus arrives without warning.” This is the first sentence of Erin Morgenstern’s enchanting debut novel, The Night Circus. It sets the tone for a story of magic, love, and imagination. Celia arrives at her father’s home unexpectedly as a young child in the late nineteenth century, and is immediately put into training to become an illusionist. Her father is himself one of the most renowned illusionists in the world, but he is also a dark and menacing man with a penchant for cruelty. One day a mysterious man in a gray suit arrives and a deal is struck – there will be a competition between Celia and a player of the man’s choice, a game of sorts which will leave one person left standing.
Marco is a young boy, an orphan, but he seems to have what it takes to learn the art of illusion, and he becomes Celia’s opponent. Both Celia and Marco are unaware of each other as they are drawn into a circus like no other. The circus travels the world, suddenly appearing and opening its doors from dusk to dawn with its striped tents and unusual and remarkable acts which include fabulous illusions, a contortionist with a mysterious past, and red-headed twins who can see the past and the future. The circus delights those who visit it and attracts a group of people obsessed with following it around the world. As the game unfolds and the players become more defined, Marco and Celia discover something even more magical than the illusions they have been trained to create: love.
The Night Circus is a feast for the senses, conjuring up beautiful scenes and luscious scents. It twists and turns and leaves the reader wondering what is real and what is illusion? Morgenstern shifts the narrative back and forth in time, a technique which adds to the unsettled feel of the novel. I will admit that this time shifting felt confusing to me at first. But eventually, I stopped paying attention to the dates, and simply allowed the story to sweep me forward…and it was when I did this that the novel captured me.
The Night Circus is a wonderful feat of storytelling. It is perhaps this idea of story which resonated the most with me. Stories transport us to places we can only imagine. They have the power to move us emotionally. Sometimes they open a door to a place within us that we had not known existed. And that is what The Night Circus is all about. Morgenstern describes all her stories as being “fairy tales in one way or the other,” and I think that is an apt description of this novel. There is evil versus good, magic, enchantment, and a slip away from reality which is mesmerizing.
As I read this novel, I began to envision Morgenstern’s world of a mysterious circus. This novel would make a tremendous movie.
The book is not without its faults – a lack of depth to the characters, a confusing time shift in the narrative, a plot which is sometimes hard to grasp…but despite these faults, I found myself loving The Night Circus for its originality, allure and spellbinding imagery.
Morgenstern is a young writer with a unique and talented voice. I will be looking forward to her future work with great anticipation. Readers who love the thrall of a story, who wish to be swept up in a world of magic and illusion, and who delight in novels where imagery takes center stage, will want to pick up a copy of this book.
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FTC Disclosure: I purchased this book.
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