Erin Morgenstern did something remarkable with her Doubleday debut — she breathed life into the surreal and refused to relinquish her hold. It has taken me over a month to find the right words, to properly form sufficient descriptions that would somehow do justice to the brilliance of The Night Circus. And now, as NaNo begins, I find myself finally able to give my take on a book whose bare bones were erected during National Novel Writing Month, if, for no other reason, than to encourage the NaNo eager among you to keep writing. Morgenstern did it brilliantly, and so can you.
With a buzz akin to the next coming of Rowling, the expectations were high, and rightfully so. But the plot and imagery Morgenstern created, the joyous delight readers enjoy while being led behind the black canvas tent of the Night Circus, is one that could not have been reached by a lesser writer.
The Night Circus begins with a tragedy and sets the stage for the hostile and, sometimes hopeless, life of young Celia and her fellow competitor and future lover, Marco. Celia’s mother loved Prospero the Enchanter and her daughter, but not, it would seem, enough to respectively tolerate or live for either. After her mother’s suicide, the young girl is sent to the father who isn’t aware of her existence, and the selfish and cunning Prospero immediately sets about using the girl in a deadly wager. Prospero grooms Celia, while his nemesis, Mr. A.H., does the same to the young orphan Marco, for a great magical challenge: pitting the young magicians against each other in a supernatural battle of wills.
What neither illusionist expected was for their young proteges to fall in love.
In this great fight, there are no known rules, no safeguards or scores to award the victor. There is only the circus and the impossible displays, created to amaze, that Celia and Marco can measure for comparison. The battle is set to play out in the Night Circus. It is a place of wonder, of illusion, of surreal beauty designed by a motley crew of eccentric builders and businessmen, acrobats, performers and showmen — none of whom realize that the circus they love has been created to host a magical contest — one that may lead Celia and Marco to their deaths.
Told in a nonlinear narrative and through various points of view, Morgenstern uses the lives and memories of her characters as threads, carefully fitting them together, stitch by stitch, until they engulf the reader in a lush, decadent tapestry.
Prior to finishing my reading of The Night Circus, I read many reviews, many “gut reactions” about this book. Not all were flattering. You’re going to hear “there’s no real battle. No real magical fight to the death.” No, there isn’t. We never see Celia and Marco battle each other. But, partaking in an epic death match, flames and power blazing from their fingertips or from the end of a wand, would have not served this book well. The battle is external, yes, but subtle, as is the language, the setting, the spirit of the book.
You may also hear “this was supposed to be the next Harry Potter. It wasn’t.” No, it really wasn’t. This isn’t a child’s book. This isn’t about the struggle for life or the journey to discovery one’s true path and identity. This is, at its heart, a book about independence and ultimately, about love — finding it, celebrating it and keeping it. The Night Circus is a book about the connections we make, the people who weave in and out of our lives, into our hearts, and how they all form our ideals, our judgments, our innate sense of self.
The Night Circus is a story full of wonder, full of lush, intricate pictures painted by someone well on her way to becoming a master. There is laughter and love, heartache and trauma, and all is presented in a world of fairytale made real. Each reader is welcomed into the circus of the imaginary, a place were time and space coexists in the nexus of transcendence. Prepare for your trip to the circus. I promise, you won’t ever want to leave.