You would expect a circus to be riotous with colour. The myriad of tents displaying if not all, then most of the colours of the rainbow, and more. The circus that has seemingly appeared overnight, contains no colour at all. Black and white stripes adorn the tents that seem to tower uninterrupted into the sky. Word spreads quickly about the circus and it is not long before everybody knows of it’s sudden, almost mystical appearance. However, it is not open to the public this moment, a solid Iron gate keeps potential visitors a good distance away. Lack of colour is not the only thing that differentiates this circus from others. This circus opens at night and closes at dawn. This is the Le Cirque des Reves, The Circus of Dreams.
This is a circus unlike any other circus. This circus has multiple tents, their number impossible to count because it always seems to be changing. New tents pop up with spectacular new acts and performers almost every night. The circus is used as a backdrop for a magical contest that is to take place between two young protagonists.
We are introduced to one of the protagonists in the first chapter when she turns up at the circus with a suicide note pinned to her dress addressing the owner of the circus, Hector Bowen, informing him that she is Celia and is his daughter. Magical realism pokes it’s head into the narrative as Celia first shatters a china cup of tea and then puts it back together with just her stare. You see the ultimate difference between The Circus of Dreams and a normal circus is that with the Circus of Dreams, the magic is real.
Hector has invited a man, Alexander, to the circus to tempt him into a wager, a game, a competition, in which his stake is his daughter. He challenges this Alexander to find somebody more naturally gifted in magic than his daughter. If Alexander finds somebody than he gets the daughter if not than Hector gets Alexander’s entrant. When Alexander asks Hector that he hopes he is not proposing this challenge because he lost the last one, the reader will realise that these two are old sparring partners and this “game” has been played many times before, perhaps for generations. It is also obvious that both men possess magic themselves. The other protagonist for this narrative will be Celia’s adversary.
Years pass as they both train for this magical challenge. Marco, Celia’s opponent is just as clueless as Celia, and the reader, as to the rules of this contest. They are left vague and ambiguous, only adding to the mystery of an already mysterious novel. As the years pass, and they become aware of each other’s identity they both add shows and tents to the circus. Incredible magical creations that are vividly depicted by Morgenstern’s wondrous writing. In a way the circus itself almost becomes their creation. They start to find themselves being drawn to each other, adversarial feelings start to dissipate.
My only minor gripe with this novel is the constant time shifts. Many novels have narratives that shift forward and backward in time, but The Night Circus does so with alarming regularity. If the reader is not careful and diligent, they could easily find themselves disorientated with so many shifts in time. However, the nature of the narrative requires these shifts and once you become used to them happening pretty much every chapter, you will find your way.
This book is for the reader who loves the magical, the fantastical elements, in their narrative. Magic almost drips off this book as you put it back on the shelves. As soon as you return to this book, you can feel the magical aura immediately. However, there is a darkness to this book as well, you can feel it on the periphery of the magic. Sometimes ebbing closer, sometimes receding like an enchanted ocean, but always there.
What is this dark element? Who will win? What form, and when will the contest take place? For almost the entirety of the novel the reader is left in a cloud of ambiguity. Morgenstern stretches out the mystery for almost the length of the book, but it never becomes bogged down in boredom, or a chore to struggle to the next chapter. This truly is a mysterious puzzle of a novel. But that is the strength of the novel, how it weaves it’s magic and keeps the reader enraptured, enchanted, craving answers. I truly love this novel. 5 Stars!
This was another buddy read with the wonderful Nat K and we have had many stops and starts with this one. This was a reread for me and I must thank Nat for giving me the chance to return to the wondrous world that is the Night Circus.
I not sure if Nat will get to write a lengthy review with this one as she has a lot going on in her life at the moment so for the moment I will post this here. If she does get to right a review I will add it to buddy reads.
Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus, a number-one national best seller that has been sold around the world and translated into thirty-seven languages. She has a degree in theater from Smith College and lives in Massachusetts.
There is a nice interview with Erin talking about The Night Circus here -