Book Review: Night Circus

THE-NIGHT-CIRCUSTitle: Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Genre: Fantasy

Grade: 4 out of 5 stars


A lot drew me to Night Circus, including a pretty awesome story idea, but the main draw for me was that Night Circus was a NaNoWriMo novel inspired by the NaNo prompt of sending your characters to the circus if you don’t know what else to do with them. (Another famous one is adding ninjas. There are no ninjas in Night Circus. Just saying.) Like most other NaNoNovelists, I love to see someone achieve success through the program.

Some critics have called Night Circus untethered, without a solid enough foundation for the airier elements of the novel, and to some degree this is true. The characters, too, tend to be introduced to us in patches, hither and thither in a minimalistic way that contrasts with the psychic spectacle of the novel’s contents.

However, I think this is a case of form following function.

I may not have cared about the relationship between magicians Celia and Marco as much as I could have in a more grounded narrative. But I was given just enough impression, the impression one might get in the tent of a carnival act – at every moment, pockets of entertainment and sleight of hand reveals, but only just enough.

The beauty of this novel is the way the narrative mimics the very circus it creates, while never tipping over into the realm of style for style’s sake. The style is for the sake of the narrative, with as much hidden from the reader as from the characters, revealing only in fits and starts and brief interludes.

Le Cirque des Rêves is the Circus of Dreams. Its followers, the rêveurs, are willing to travel hundreds of miles to be a part of this gothic, not-like-any-other circus, and the readers, too, become rêveurs, sucked in by its intrigue, captivated by its mystery, enthralled by its surrealistic complexity. As Celia and Marco battle with feats of magic disguised as illusion by building up the circus with new tents and new exhibits, so we, the dreamers, wander the labyrinthine circus, never seeing everything at once and always finding some new addition or section we hadn’t seen before.

Night Circus isn’t a romance. It is romance. It’s a dream that meanders but never bores, whimsical and eerie and mysterious and veritable feast of the senses and of imagination, which is exactly what Le Cirque des Rêves itself was conceived to be. The novel is the circus, and we are merely its dreamers. You never have a sense that you go anywhere – it’s all very self-contained – but you feel decidedly satisfied when you leave, just waiting until the next time you can enter Le Cirque des Rêves once more.

I thoroughly enjoyed Night Circus, even though it isn’t my usual, grittier cup of tea. I think I found most of the supporting cast more interesting than the main pairing, but that’s not to say that Celia and Marco didn’t have their charms. In addition, the climax suffered what so many fantasy climaxes suffer: It’s really hard to create an adequate visual climax in a written medium. I also felt Tsukiko’s character bordered on exoticization. At the same time, many of the characters were exotics, out of time and space in the dreamland of the circus, so perhaps she was playing a part as well as everyone else.

Most of all, I loved this novel for the dreaminess of it, as fanciful, gorgeous, and slightly airy as the contents of the circus, its magic seamless with its illusion. The plot was almost secondary to the construction and maintenance of the circus itself, and that was just fine with me. Nothing wrong with enjoying your visits to a circus, taking a break from reality to just … Feel. Experience. Dream. That’s what it’s for.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, after all.

I’ve never read anything like it, and I never would have thought I’d like something that acts less like a ride and more like a wandering balloon. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a story where the style was the substance, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Side note: I found myself in the somewhat strange position of casting Celia and Marco. I normally don’t do that for anyone else’s novels, and I only do that with mine to see the characters more clearly. In this case, if it were being made into a movie, I saw Celia as Rachel McAdams and Marco as a younger Robert Downey, Jr. Possibly Hugh Dancy.

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