The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a beautiful and complex book, told from multiple perspectives across different time eras. Each character’s story is carefully intertwined, slowly building up the mystery and beauty of the circus.
So, what is so special about this circus? Well, for one it only opens at sunset and closes at sunrise. There is never an announcement of when the circus is coming to town, it just appears and people flock to it, with some devoted followers, the rêveurs (dreamers), choosing to follow wherever it may lead. This enchanting circus is full of mysteries, with too many tents and performers to be seen in the course of a single evening. There is something for everyone, from illusionists to contortionists to fortune-tellers, and what goes on behind closed doors is just as mysterious…
Set across the late 1800s and early 1900s, the book begins with the events leading up to the formation of the circus, and a mysterious challenge set up by a grey-suited man and Prospero the Enchanter. The reason and rules for this challenge are never fully explained in the novel, all we know as a reader is that there is a game to be won or lost by their chosen representatives.
Prospero’s representative in the game is his daughter, Celia Bowen, who has inherited his stage talents for illusion. When we first meet her as a child she is capable of shattering an object and putting it back together perfectly with what could be considered magic. Her father then puts her through rigorous training in the hopes of making her win the game, with his training methods becoming more and more brutal.
Her opponent is Marco Alisdair, trained by the man in grey, an orphan picked out of an institute. His training is more like an education, with him being allowed to read countless books but never shown any real affection. He is often kept locked up alone, never granted any real freedom until he is told to work for the creator of the circus.
Celia is hired as the circus illusionist, whilst Marco works behind-the-scenes in planning and protecting the circus and all its performers. Their paths are intertwined, with the circus forming the venue for their game but with neither of the contestants aware of what to expect. This goes on for years, with the circus gathering a following as it moves around the world. Both players are waiting for the game to begin and adding more and more tents to the circus, with these tents becoming gifts to each other.
As the years stretch on both start to notice cracks forming in the circus, as the circus is almost frozen in time with none of the performers aging and no children being born. Is it possible for both Celia and Marco to find a way out of the game whilst keeping the circus alive?
The plot of this book is so intricately carved that it is difficult to condense it for this review, but it really drew me in as soon as I started reading. However, Erin Morgenstern’s narration is very detached, as if the reader is viewing all of the events as an outsider. I personally didn’t mind this aspect of the book, but if you’re the kind of person that likes to get inside a character’s head then this book might not be for you. At times the narration will also switch into second person, as if talking to the reader directly as they progress around the circus.
“You are among them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do. You stand in the fading light, the scarf around your neck pulled up against the chilly evening breeze, waiting to see for yourself exactly what kind of circus only opens once the sun sets.”
I loved the way this story was told, but I’ll admit that the frequent skipping through times did get a bit confusing at the beginning. The description is beautifully detailed, and the circus really takes on a life of it’s own as you read, with you feeling like you’re really walking around it and seeing all of the acts for yourself. Despite the detached feel of the narration it is still possible to form an attachment to the characters, and the unsolved mysteries add to the novel rather than leaving a feeling of dissatisfaction. The end resolution is integrated well into the plot, and overall I really enjoyed this book!
This book grabbed my attention in a very clever way and then I simply couldn’t put it down. The Night Circus is steeped in mystery, some of which is never revealed. This may frustrate some readers, but I think it adds to the beauty of the circus, as I think the truth would ruin the effect. The characters have such depth to them, and I fell in love with the circus as much as the rêveurs.
BUY YOUR COPY