Thursday, July 3, 2014

REVIEW: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2011
Genre(s): Fantasy
Series: NA
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Jim Dale

This is a book that I’ve put off reading. The hype around it when it was released put me off a bit and the descriptions of the book had me mildly interested but I wasn’t convinced. I am now bemoaning my hesitation because this is EXACTLY the type of book that I love and I can’t imagine it not charming the pants off 95% of its readers. Okay, maybe 90% because there are people out there that hate charm. So, if you, like me, have been putting off reading it, for heaven’s sake stop right now and go pick it up immediately! I’m not even going to quibble or be coy with my feelings – I loved it so so much and ate it up like chocolate mice with licorice tales and caramel corn. I am devastated it is over while at the same time feeling like it ended exactly where it needed to.

I also understand now why none of the descriptions of the book really hooked me. It is a very difficult book to adequately explain and it’s kind of best if you go in blind and let it unfold. It is set in the Victorian era and embraces everything that is delightful about that time. Imagine the most magical spectacle you can think of - Cirque Du Soleil unbound by the laws of nature. This circus is the playing field of two real magicians (i.e. they do actual magic not just tricks) who’ve never met but who have been trained and bound together since childhood to compete in a contest of skill. It moves from place to place mysteriously and seems to just suddenly appear unannounced in the next town and it is filled with tents, performers and exhibitions that mesmerize its patrons: a garden made of ice that never melts, a leafless tree covered in candles each representing a wish, a merry go round made with fantastical creatures that move like they are alive. The circus is the backdrop but also functions as a character in and of itself and the descriptions of it created just the right atmosphere of whimsy, mystery and wonder.

The story is told from a few different perspectives and timelines. There are a very few chapters written in the second person which are meant, I think, to give the reader a firsthand “experience” of being a visitor to the circus – it’s the outsider’s and least intimate viewpoint. These chapters seem to happen in some kind of undetermined present. Much of the book moves the story from beginning to end through the perspectives of the two magicians competing against each other: Marco and Celia. This is the most intimate and complete part of the storyline. The third perspective is from a seemingly average American kid Bailey who loves the circus and his timeline begins somewhere in the middle of the full story until it intersects towards the end. This convoluted structure works pretty well though I found it to be the weakest element of the book. It also ensures that the story is a bit of a mystery.

The book reminded me a little of the brilliant and short-lived TV show Carnivale though The Night Circus is much less tawdry. It has the same sense of the uncanny and inklings of a fundamental battle being fought on a very strange and wonderful stage. It also creates the feeling of family amongst like-minded and strange but strangely lovable people. Carnivale was at times quite frightening and disturbing. While the Night Circus is not, it is also not without menace – the cold-hearted and enigmatic task masters and the mysterious “game” with unknown consequences around which the book revolves provide a real sense of foreboding.

At its heart the book is also a romance though if you don’t like romances don’t let this put you off. The romantic scenes are doled out sparingly and are all the more moving and emotional because of it. There were scenes in this book that almost made me melt just with words.

So I think I’m starting to babble. Last thought, Jim Dale does a great reading though it took me a bit to get Harry Potter out of my head.

Final Verdict: This is a fantastic book that fills me with speechless happiness.  Thank you Erin Morgenstern for bringing this dream of a book to life.

Any other Night Circus lovers out there?  What other book or TV show would you compare this book to?

Updating to add:  I just read some of the reviews on Goodreads and was taken aback by many two star reviews referring to the book as slow moving and the relationships unbelievable!  This was not my experience at all but I am wondering if my experience was influenced by listening to the Audio with Jim Dale reading.  Maybe I was hypnotized but the whole book enthralled beginning to end. 

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