Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (UK edition)

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Historical Novel, Literary Fiction, Magical Realism
Publisher: Gollancz (24th May 2012)

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.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

(Blurb via Goodreads)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3 stars)

THE NIGHT CIRCUS is Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel. It is a story filled with magic, mystery and competition. The story is set in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and revolves around a mysterious bet made between two gentlemen about whose student is better. Meanwhile, a circus called Le Cirque de Rêves is created by a group of dreamers in London that is designed to delight and amaze: it arrives without warning and is open from dusk to dawn. Its performers produce amazing feats and some of the tents themselves are magical, and soon it picks up quite a following as it travels around the world.

I went into this book intrigued by all the good reviews and press I had come across; the blurb definitely hooked me in. Honestly, I was bored. I did not find this book magical at all. I thought the circus itself was an interesting concept, but all the things going on around it just didn’t seem fully realised to me. I feel that a lot of things were left unexplained at the end. That being said I enjoyed following Celia and Marco’s journey, and I thought Poppet, Widget, and Bailey were interesting and I would have liked to see more of them.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS is not a happy story. I found the whole bet aspect of the plot problematic; it’s between two men, and the people it’s about are dependents of them, and it also encompasses people who have no idea about the bet. The revelation at the end of the novel also didn’t help matters for me. And along those lines, I’m really not sure what to make of the magic system in this world. There doesn’t seem to be any rules or guidelines for it, and I don’t think it’s explained well. There is an almost magical realism tint to the narrative, which just left me cold. The narrative is not linear, and whilst Morgenstern does provide dates at the beginning of chapters I still found myself confused about when events were happening in relation to each other.

Having said all that, I’m now going to talk about what I liked about THE NIGHT CIRCUS. I think Morgenstern did a brilliant job capturing the magic and mystery of the Le Cirque de Rêves. It felt almost alive on the page. And there is a definite dreamlike quality to the narrative. As I’ve said earlier in the review, I thought Celia, Marco, Poppet, Widget and Bailey are interesting characters. Celia and Marco are, perhaps, the best fleshed out. Morgenstern also has some really beautiful passages in the text that convey interesting ideas, which I really enjoyed:

“Secrets have power,” Widget begins. “And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with one other person, will change them.” (p. 216)

THE NIGHT CIRCUS is perfect for fans of literary fiction with a hint of magical realism.

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