Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads): 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, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 

I am pretty excited that this book gets to be my inaugural review on this here little blog, because honestly, this is the best book I've read in a long time. I LOVE this book.

Now, up front, I recognize that this is not a book that everyone will love. I know many people who don't really go for this kind of fantastic, magical, atmospheric type book. And I agree, this book is heavy on description and a little bit lighter on the plot. It's not exactly action packed, and you have to pay close attention to the timeline because it jumps around a lot. My husband got so lost trying to follow even what decade they were in. So yes, I can see why some people wouldn't care much for this book.

But, this is exactly the kind of story that appeals to me, and I'll see if I can explain why. The magical world of the circus in this book spoke very directly to the little girl in me that used to write poetry about fairies and sunsets and clouds. Morgenstern alludes often to Shakespeare's play The Tempest, creating a link between the fantastical set created by Shakespeare and the magic in this book. My capstone thesis paper in my Shakespeare class in college was all about The Tempest, particularly the passage with the phrase "We are such stuff as dreams are made on..." (this blog is testament to how much I love that passage), and really, if I can turn the topic of dreams and magic into an academic thesis paper, I might be more than a little obsessed. Also, the love story? Le sigh... I love a good romance, but mix it in with dream-like magic and you definitely have a recipe for my new favorite book. And finally, the imagery of the black and white and red? My wedding colors were black, white, and red, for crying out loud. It's kind of like Morgenstern looked into the deepest corners of my personality and crafted a book just for me. Honestly, I think she might be my new author crush.

I would not necessarily classify this book as high literature. There are no groundbreaking insights into the human condition or deep thoughts of humanist philosophy. It is not the next great American novel, it's far too escapist for that. The themes it does explore-- the value of beauty or aesthetic spectacle, love conquers all, etc.-- are perhaps not the noblest themes of humanity. But this book is not mere escapist fluff. There is something in the questions posed about the nature of reality, about life feeling like a dream while dreams feel like life, about the creative power of the human conscious-- that resonate deep within our cultural heritage. These may be the themes of fairy-tales, but even Shakespeare took them seriously. Morgenstern has blurred the lines of reality so beautifully in this piece I can't help wishing the Night Circus were real. That is true magic.

As a note, a huge part of the appeal of this book for me was the fact that I listened to it as an audio book, and it's read by none other than the fantastic voice of Jim Dale. If you don't know who Jim Dale is, he was the narrator for all the Harry Potter books, and I spent years of my adolescence falling asleep to the sound of his voice. Honestly, his voice is the voice of magic to me, so it just seemed to be so fitting that he would narrate this book too.

There is simply too much that I could gush on and on about (like the conversation at the end between Widget and Alexander about the value of stories, one of my favorite passages), but for the sake of brevity I will refrain.

In short, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys some pretty fantastic magical romance.


  1. I just finished reading this today! It was a really fun book. I'm kind of itching to go the St. Louis annual Circus now.

    1. I'm so glad you liked it! I'm itching to go to a circus too, although I don't think any real circus will measure up now.

  2. You covered everything I loved about the book. It took me a while to get into it (I started to get tired of the Circus descriptions and wanted some story) but overall it was so beautiful and by the end I was on on the edge of my seat.

    1. Yes, I can see how the descriptions could get tiresome, but yep, by the end it's all worth it. So glad you liked it.