Book Review: The Night Circus

Cover Image

Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Vintage

Date: 2012

Format: Paperback (490 pages)

Synopsis: The circus arrives without warning.

No announcements precede it …

It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

I have never written a book review for this blog before, but this book was so wonderful that I just had to tell you about it. I hope I can do it justice.

The synopsis is short and mysterious, and it drew me in right away. I definitely wasn’t disappointed with where it led me. The major plot of this novel is a challenge set between Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair when they were children, by Celia’s estranged father and Marco’s enigmatic benefactor. They are not told the rules of the game, nor how it will end, only that they must employ all their skill and intellect to defeat their opponent. What makes this novel so enchanting is that these skills are magical. They grow up practicing their abilities, unaware of each other’s identities, until eventually they both become involved with an ambitious project known as Le Cirque des Rêves: The Circus of Dreams. This circus forms the stage for their challenge, and becomes more integral to their lives than they could ever have imagined.

The circus itself is a triumph of imagination. Morgenstern’s beautiful and magical prose made the circus come alive for me and take on a depth and clarity that isn’t often achieved with written descriptions. Unbeknownst to the circus goers and most of the performers, Celia and Marco’s magic has become part of the circus as they go to greater and greater lengths to outdo each other. This allows Morgenstern to create something more than just an ordinary circus. It has all the elements you would expect: acrobats, a contortionist, a fortune teller, an illusionist, but also other wonders I never tired of reading about. At times it reminded me of how Harry Potter felt when he was discovering the wizarding world. I think my favourites were the Ice Garden, the tent filled with bottles and jars and the Wishing Tree. I won’t spoil the mystery of these for you, as I think you should discover them for yourself.

Celia and Marco are fascinating characters trapped in lives they did not choose and burdened with responsibilities they do not fully understand. Initially, they are unaware of each other’s identities, and there was a great sense of anticipation as the challenge gained pace and they grew closer to discovery. The outcome of this eventual realisation impacts not only their own lives but those of everyone connected to the circus. Their relationship to each other is beautifully explored and I was completely captivated with their struggle and heart-breaking choices.

Though Celia and Marco are the focus of the novel, the story is told through the experiences of some of the other characters too; all of them integral in one way or another to the circus and the outcome of the challenge. I found each of them interesting and well developed, and I came to care about them almost as much as Celia and Marco. There’s Tsukiko, the contortionist, whose role in the challenge was a complete surprise to me; the Murray twins, Poppet and Widget, born on the night the circus first opened with powers no one really understands; there’s Isobel, the fortune teller, whose love driven actions have tragic consequences; and there’s Bailey, a dreamer and lover of the circus, whose destiny may be bigger than them all.

The novel itself is structured in an interesting way. It is split into five parts, each containing both chapters and small sections which address the reader directly. I loved these, as they made me feel like I was walking through the circus myself and discovering its wonders. The chapters take place in two different time periods between 1873 and 1903, but eventually merge later on. They are clearly dated and I was never confused as to when events were taking place; it just made things more interesting. One of the things I loved about this structure is that it allowed Morgenstern to employ one of my favourite storytelling devices; the revelation of the narrator. I’ll say no more than that, as I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

There are so many wonderful elements to this novel and I can’t possibly mention them all here. For me, it was about mystery, romance and magic. The sense of mystery is brilliant and I was constantly picking up clues and subtle hints to try and answer all the questions the story posed. I got excited when I made connections between past events and future ones, and I really enjoyed the surprise of unexpected twists and revelations. I started out reading it slowly so I could savour it, but after a while I just had to read it faster so I could find out the fate of the characters and the conclusion to the challenge. I really can’t recommend this book enough.

I’ll end this review with one of my favourite quotes from the book, which I think perfectly captures the power of great storytelling and the effect this book has had on me:

“Someone needs to tell those tales … There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict … You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words.” pp 482-483

Overall Rating:  Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture  My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: This is Morgenstern’s first novel (though you would never know it) but she has some other interesting projects. One is her really cool hand-painted black and white tarot cards, just like the ones Isobel uses in The Night Circus, which can be found here. The other is her collection of lovely short stories, the Flax-Golden Tales. Each one is only ten sentences long and inspired by a photograph. They seem more like poems than stories to me. They can be found here.

You can also check out the book trailer for The Night Circus here.

I hope you all liked this review and it’s made you want to check out this book. Please let me know in the comments. I’m a bit nervous since it’s my first one! Thanks so much for reading.