9 November 2011

Review 49: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I'm going to struggle to structure this review into anymore than a stream of superlatives...

"In 1886, a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Reves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, the Circus of Dreams is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the reveurs - the dreamers. At the heart of the story is the tangled relationship betwen two young magicians, Celia, the enchanter's daughter, and Marco, the sorcerer's apprentice. At the behest of their shadowy masters, hey find themselves locked in a deadly contest, forced to test the very limisof the imagination and of their love..."

One thing's for sure, that blurb doesn't do it justice.

Story: Magical, whimsical and unique
Characters: Hugely appealing from the two main characters to the wide array of secondaries.
Writing: Crazy good.

Story: There are many narratives that weave in and out of the story and you are never sure which story you are going to pick up at the beginning of each chapter. They all wind around the circus; a mysterious black and white circus that appears and leaves suddenly and only opens at night. The paths weave around a bonfire that burns white and no paths ever lead to a dead end. There are contortionists, acrobats, rooms of impossiblilites such as the Ice Garden. I have rarely wished something fictional was real so much. At the heart of the story are Celia and Marco who have been pitted aginst each other by respectively, their father and the man who rescued him from an orphanage. The two men are seeking to battle talent against training in a battle that Celia and Marco do not fully understand the rules of. As well as the stories of various people involved with the circus, there is the story of Bailey, a boy in 1902 who sneaks into the circus and finds his life intertwined in the circus in ways he ever thought possible.

Characters: There are such a wonderful array of characters here, and every one of hem is cleverly and carefully crafted. There are various sinister forces at play rather than a declared and unsubtle villain; Celia's father, The Great Prospero - a stage magician to the public but something darker and morepowerful to us in the know, has a long standing rivalry with the even more mysterious Alexander H------ who takes Marco from an orphanage and raises him in solitude with a rigorous training to prepare him to battle Celia, who has a natural affinity for breaking and healing things. The relationship between Celia and Marco is wonderfully crafted so as you're never sure how it is going to evolve and when they are going to realise the deeper relationship that they have been forced into. I found Celia incredibly sympathetic and Marco very appealing - I must admit he's up there with Henry DeTamble from The Time Travelers Wife as literary characters I have a bit of a crush on.

All of the secondary characters are equally appealing; a clockmaker who designs their magical clock and becomes enthralled by the circus, the twins born at the moment the circus opens for the first time who befriend Bailey, the boy who wishes for more than inherited his parents farm. Every character is beautifully created and get inside your head and your heart.

Writing: Just beautiful. I was constantly torn between wanted to read it all in one go and only reading one chapter at a time so I could it make last longer. I managed to make it last for about two thirds of the novel and then I had to just finish it all in one go. It is a very descriptive book but this is not a criticism as it's incredibly well done. It is rather dreamy so it's probably not one for people who like fast moving plotting. I'm not normally a fan of heavy description (I'm really not a Hardy fan) but Morgenstern's grasp of her story and of language means that it just adds to the story and she balances it with the story wonderfully. The circus is such an  amazing creation and the description really brings it to life.

This would make an amazing film but I'd be nervous to see if any screenwriter and director could actually bring it to life and manage to preserve its magic. The only thing that I wasn't 100% convinced by was the ending but only because I was expecting something different and it just went in the opposite direction so more due to my expectations than any real flaw in the book. I won't go into any more details so as not to spoil the ending but would be interested to hear from people who have read it whether they were expecting her to wrap it up in that way?

Cover Art and Title: The cover and indeed the whole book is lovely; everything is black and white except for the page marker which is a red ribbon. It dawned on me at a late stage in the novel that the black and white echoes the fact that the circus is entirely black and white and the red ribbon reflects the red scarf that the 'reveurs' wear to mark them out. This makes the reader feel subconciously like they themselves as part of this. It's striking as well and there are some lovely chapter breaks and the edges of the pages are black as well. The title is something that would always appeal to me and obviously a pretty straight representation of the book.

Try it if you liked: The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger or Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

Final Thoughts: A whimsical wonderful book that will appeal to fans of atypical fantasy with an edge. I loved it.


  1. Just placed in on my to read list and ordered from the library. I like this format. I read the intro to see if I wanted the book, and I will come back after I read it to compare your thoughts about it.

  2. Glad you like the new format. Make sure you come back and let me know what you thought!

  3. It was a wonderful book. I read it in one sitting, so I probably didn't get a chance to truly appreciate the language of it. When I added it to my goodreads I noticed a few low ratings of recent readers, so I was concerned that the wordiness would bother me, but even with my attention brought to it I never had a problem. I felt I could really visualise the circus, which would be a attributed to just that descriptive element. I found the back and forth in time a little confusing at the end. I was thinking of many of the events as happening on the same day when they were a year apart. But rereading it cleared it up, I had stopped paying attention to the dates in the chapter headings. I loved the image of the circus as love letters, encased in tents. I had a feeling that Prospero's experiment was a potential ending, but I hadn't forseen the rush to have it done. Were it not for the broken charm, I still wouldn't have understood why they could not find another way to get around the game. I will be keeping an eye out for more books from Morgenstern

  4. This debut novel was ASTOUNDING! I read this novel for a book club and was overwhelmed by the artistic quality of every line written by Erin Morgenstern. This story is a beautiful blend of genres that will instantly enthrall any reader. Treat yourself to a wonderful experience and read The Night Circus.