The Night Circus – Book Review

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.

Highly recommended.

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    • Lindsey on December 15, 2011 at 10:51

    I was hesitant when I read this book because of all the hype, but I also ended up loving it. I agree that it would make a wonderful movie. The rich detail of the circus really made it come alive, and made me wish I could visit. I also thought the character development could have been a little stronger, although I did like the characters. They just didn’t stick with me after finishing it. I would love to see a movie version directed by Tim Burton!

  1. I don’t read much fantasy, but I’m intrigued by this book since it seems to be about the power of stories.

  2. Glad you liked this one. I agree with everything you wrote and found it to be such a delightful, atmospheric book. One I will most definitely re-read.

    • Aths on December 15, 2011 at 18:14

    I loved this one too! The whole description is so wonderful and very vivid! Glad you enjoyed it too!

    • zibilee on December 16, 2011 at 07:27

    I really loved this book for the imagery alone, and got such a great feeling of intoxication reading about all the colors and sights and sounds, but I do agree with you in that it’s not a character driven or plot driven novel, and that bothered some. It didn’t bother me, because I just sort of took it for what it was and enjoyed what was there, but some readers needed more. I am so glad to hear that you liked it and that it was such a great read for you. It was one of my favorites this year.

    • Trish on December 16, 2011 at 11:16

    I asked for this book for Christmas (one of two I requested) so hopefully I’ll have my hands on it soon. though I have heard really really good things and really really ick things. I think the lack of characterisation that you mention seems to be what most people get hung up on. And I admit that’s big for me. But, I’m still interested!

    • Wendy on December 17, 2011 at 08:53

    Lindsey: OH yes, I think Burton would do a great job with this one! I know the movie rights were sold and it is in the process of being developed…but when I googled the movie, I couldn’t find a whole lot about it. So I guess we’ll just have to wait and see – but I will definitely want to see the movie of this one!

    Kathy: I almost NEVER read fantasy – so I was surprised how much I loved this book.

    Andi: Yes – very atmospheric!

    Heather: I agree – the book is really all about the magic and imagery – once I realized that I was able to let go of any of the flaws in character/plot and just let it pull me in. I am eager to see what Morgenstern has coming up…I think we’ll hear more about this author.

    Trish: I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this one…the majority of readers seem to be loving it, although there are those who felt it lacked something. I just really let myself sink into the atmosphere and found it magical that way. Looking forward to reading your thoughts on the book once you’ve read it!

  3. I’m still listening to the audio version, but decided to read your review, hoping to sort out some of my confusion with the narrative. I’ve stopped trying to keep track of the timeline and just go with the flow. I’m still a bit confused, but I so enjoy listening to Jim Dale that I won’t quit, even if I decide it’s not my cuppa. And I agree. This would make a fabulous film!

    • Serena on December 19, 2011 at 09:54

    Wonderful review. I particularly like this comment about the book “feast for the senses”

    • Wendy on December 19, 2011 at 12:29

    Les: I would have a hard time, I think, listening to this one – the time shifts would really confuse me! But, glad you are enjoying it thus far!

    Serena: Thank you!!!

  4. THanks for the Review………..I’m definitely going to check this out….

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