Book Review: The Night Circus

The first time I read Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, I’d picked up a copy from the library and carried it around with me for a few weeks, trying to find the time to actually start it.

Something else would always come up, but the story sounded so alluring, so intriguing, that I just kept the book in my bag, where it was always waiting for me to have a spare moment. Finally, one weekend, despite having to coach more than 10 games of volleyball in two days, I somehow found that spare moment, and proceeded to finish the nearly 400-page volume before the weekend was up.

I’ve found that no matter how many books I’ve read, some stories just speak to me. They beg to be read straight through, to not be put down until the very last word is finished. The compelling story within the pages of The Night Circus was an extreme example of that.

So I returned it to the library and proceeded to order my own copy on Monday night. I knew this was a book I’d want to read again and again.

From Amazon:

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”

The way Morgenstern sets up the plot of The Night Circus is one of my favorites. Several stories develop at once, pulling the reader into the world she has created. The plot lines don’t run concurrently, with some filling in gaps in time that others have left out. Each chapter is dated, jumping through time to weave a complicated and wondrous tale.

Her character development is also top-notch. I found myself glued to the pages, dying to know how each of the players would intersect the lives of the rest. Morgenstern weaves a beautiful story full of rich detail. Although the circus is set entirely in black and white–colorless costumes, tents, tickets, and a mysterious white-hot bonfire at the heart of it all–Morgenstern fills her circus with an intense color as she details the illusions Marco and Celia create for one another.

This is one book I’d never want turned into a movie, for it is far more beautiful and complex in my mind than I can ever imagine it being on-screen.

Despite being, at its heart, a love story, The Night Circus never feels over-the-top or sappy. The passion the main characters have for one another is evident in the work they are creating and the intensity of their interactions. Their love is forbidden by the masters of their game, and they are determined to find a way to overcome it, but Morgenstern never hits you over the head with sickeningly sweet imagery of star-crossed lovers. Her approach is much more subtle, gradually building their story to a heart-wrenching conclusion.

Perhaps my favorite characters in the entire novel are a set of twins, nicknamed Widget and Poppet, born as the circus opens on its very first night. We see them age, from curious toddlers who have free reign of the circus to talented teenagers with their own act to perform each night. Their unique abilities bring them to the forefront of the story as time passes, and the role they have to play becomes paramount.

Intertwined within the book is a story told in second person–your very own visit to the circus, which lets you see even more of the imaginative world Morgenstern has created. It leaves you with a feeling of being right there in the midst of it all, experiencing the wonder that the characters themselves feel as they explore the ever-changing circus they get to call home.

The book ends on these words: “You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Rêves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus. You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.” Appropriate, as finishing this novel truly feels like you are awakening from a dream.

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One thought on “Book Review: The Night Circus

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