Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-1846555244
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am not the one who would willingly read novels from the fantasy genre. Somehow fantasy and I don’t go together. However, when I received a copy of The Night Circus, I knew this book was unlike any other fantasy book. In fact, I would say it charmed the pants off me. The Night Circus is a breath-taking book and I cannot help but gush and rant about it. It is that brilliant.

The story follows Marco and Celia, two young children pitted against each other by their older and clearly vaguely amoral guardians. A game is set up, a game to which the rules are unclear and the winner can take decades to determine.

These two young people are raised unconventionally, studying magic under their tutors’ philosophies, all the while knowing there will be a competition between the two of them some day. Enter impresario Chandresh Lefèvre, who has imagined something wondrous. He explains:

“More than a circus, really, like no circus anyone has ever seen. Not a single large tent but a multitude of tents, each with a particular exhibition. No elephants or clowns. No, something more refined than that. Nothing commonplace. This will be different, this will be an utterly unique experience, a feast for the senses. Theatrics sans theater, an immersive entertainment. We will destroy the presumptions and preconceived notions of what a circus is and make it something else entirely, something new.”

Their arena? But of course the Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams). But the plot focuses on more than just the battle between these two (which involves snow gardens, wishing trees and mazes) it looks at the dynamics of all the relationships that exist as a result of this game; and the effect the game has on the wellbeing of the characters.

Some characters flourish within the confines of the circus whilst others go decidedly downhill, struggling with the concept that their lives do not fully belong to them, that they are being manipulated in ways they could never have imaged. Poppet and Widget were by far my favourite characters, children of the Night Circus, they are gifted and not entirely what you would expect from normal children. I loved the way Bailey was fitted into the plot; it was subtle and very elegant.

The circus, it is said, “arrives without warning.” Not so this novel. There have been all kinds of pre-pub buzz and hype for this title. There’s a reason; this book is so special that almost all who read it take note. Ms. Morgenstern’s tale transcended the page and brought true enchantment to my oh-so-ordinary life. As it happens, one of the characters could be speaking for the author herself:

“I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I relay it through printed words on crumpled newsprint, words they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless of time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will.”.

It’s amazing that this is Morgenstern’s first novel, the writing is haunting and fanciful; befitting of such an enigmatic circus. She handles the descriptions of the various circus tents and acts beautifully, it is never monotonous hearing about the circus, in fact, I wish she’d publish a whole separate book outlining each and every detail. She ties all the elements together with a grace that seems effortless.

Some have compared The Night Circus with Audrey Niffenegger and yes, I can see slight similarities given that both authors are visual artists. Others mention Alice Hoffman and yes, I can see some elements in common but Erin Morgenstern has created a unique world with the Cirque de Rêves and for those who are on the right wavelength she has provided a pathway to a singularly enchanting universe, one in which my inner child revelled. Highly recommended for all “reveurs”/dreamers.

Here is the gorgeous book trailer:

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