And to think the last time I was in Circus land, it was as a kid lost in Blyton!!
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is of course nothing like any circus I’ve ever read of or even imagined before. Not that I dream of circuses, although I might now 😉 For one thing it’s entirely done in black and white – tents, costumes and the exhibits! I wonder why the author chose to keep to this duotone colour scheme, although it does lend a certain air of austere elegance and whimsy to the proceedings 🙂 And what strange proceedings they are!
I must confess that initially I was so taken in by the author’s evocative prose that the leisurely pace of the narrative, the absence of a definitive plot and the constant back & forth in timelines didn’t bother me. However after a while, the latter two began to jar, if only a little. I wish Morgenstern had a more clearly defined plot although at times I feel the ambivalence & lack of detail is a deliberate ruse on her part to add to the mystery and aura of the story. So, although our introduction to the two pivotal characters and their mentors is immediate, the duel or contest between them isn’t obvious (or wasn’t to me) until much later, as the story unfolds. Also the author never clarifies the reason for such a contest, other than the whims and egos of the mentors, which was in the end extremely unsatisfying. And, I never figured out why the author chose to go back & forth in time either. I think the story could have been told equally effectively & with less confusion in a linear timeframe.
Nonetheless, this was on the whole an extremely original and satisfying read not in the least, because from the 1st page, Morgenstern’s prose is lyrical, and enchantingly captivating. The concept is original and alluring – when’s the last time you read a story where two great magicians are forced to duel, one an orphan trained in magic and the other an illusionist extraordinaire apparently born that way?! The Circus serves as a venue to this intrigue and is peppered with enigmatic characters that most often provide support but at others become victims in the ongoing duel. It’s hard to tell what is illusion and what is real and yet after a while it ceases to matter because everything seems to fit seamlessly together. The two opponents falling in love is rather predictable and the only part of the story that disappoints – not that they fall in love, just that where elsewhere Morgenstern’s prose transforms the Circus into an enchanted place & convinces me of its magical nature, it fails to convince me of the depth of passion between Marco & Celia. Their love seems real enough, just not the earth-shattering, gut-wrenching passion that she would have us believe. Well, at least not to me! They always appear to be in total control of their emotions and their rendezvous’, when they do occur feel incomplete, lacking in some way that I cannot quite put my finger on. Yet the ending is rather brilliant and Morgenstern makes up somewhat for her earlier lack of passion 🙂
Reading this on the heels of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has prolonged my stay in alternate realities as it were! I wouldn’t have thought of comparing these two books and yet they are quite similar. They each offer you a surreal journey through different worlds, and they both succeed in doing a great job of it! Read this book for the wonderfully organic prose, the unusual premise & the fairy-tale like feel of the story. Give it time to grow on you and I guarantee you will lose yourself in this magical Circus and never want to leave 🙂
Morgenstern is an excellent wordsmith and a very talented storyteller, with a penchant for the unusual & quirky & this is indeed an impressive debut. Whether its Chandresh’s exotic ‘Midnight Dinners’ or the fantastical contents of the Circus tents; the magical charm of the Circus bonfire or the devotion of the rêveurs, she describes each with allure and suitable mystery, without once overstepping into gaudiness & excess. I look forward to reading more of her 🙂
P. S. I wonder if there will be a movie in the future…this being such a visual story. Might be interesting if done well 🙂
- Book Review: ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern (dodgingcommas.wordpress.com)
- The Night Circus (bitsnbooks.wordpress.com)