Historical Romance, mystery
Reviewer Rating 5 stars
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn
As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.
Review by LadyOfMisrule
Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus is not something I had heard of before picking it up in Stanstead airport on my way to France. The premise seemed interesting enough to justify an airport purchase, so I parted with my money and went on my way. I was not to be disappointed with my purchase. In fact, I became so immersed in Le Cirque de Rêves I spent much of the first day and a half of my holiday floating a pool chair with a glass of sangria in one hand and this book in the other.
Set during the Victorian era, Morgenstern asks us to suspend our disbelief as she tells us the story of Celia and Marco, two workers of the impossible. Magic exists, and anyone is capable of using it, but the overwhelming majority of people do not believe and so cannot harness the power around them. The result of this disbelief has led Celia’s father, Prospero the Enchanter, to be able to tour the world making a living as an ‘illusionist’, all the while doing real magic for an unsuspecting crowd. The two protagonists are forced to sign up for an undefined ‘game’ or test of skill by their guardians whilst still young children. The rules of this game are not explained to either, they are simply to take in turn to make a move, until one eventually triumphs and is declared the winner. The venue chosen for this test of magical skill is a circus. What unfolds from this point in the tale is a beautiful and complex love story of comfort found in loneliness and yearning for what cannot be. Celia and Marco are inextricably bound together by the tenets of the game they are playing, and yet they are opponents, forced to compete against each other as they have been trained to do since childhood, for what stakes, they know not. As the game progresses, the tension in the atmosphere increases by tiny increments, much akin to the barely moving living statues within the circus itself. Others are inevitably sucked in to the competition between Celia and Marco, or, to define it more correctly the contest between Prospero and Alexander. The effect that the protagonists have on the circus impacts all who are part of Le Cirque de Rêves, whether travelling with it or not. I hesitate to describe the story in more detail as the beauty of this novel is cloak of mystery that surrounds it.
From some of the extra material included in the novel I discovered that Morgenstern was an artist before becoming an author, and this shows in the vivid descriptions of the circus, which are complex and immersive, overloading the senses with magical sights, sounds, smells and tastes, all different for each tent or display, but each invariably sticking to the monochromatic theme. Stylistically, the novel is an absolute gem. The chapters are interspersed with short sections written from the point of view of a person new to the circus, seeing its many different attractions for the first time, one for each short. The way in which time and place refuses to progress in a steady line, instead jumping backwards and forwards, all across the world is just another smokescreen, a misdirection technique Morgenstern uses to keep us from discovering what is truly going on. It is only once all the tendrils of story come together in a riveting climax that it all falls into place.
Wonderfully inventive book with a plethora of unforgettable characters and a fascinating plot. The premise is mysterious and exciting, the characters intriguing, and the circus itself is fantastically intoxicating. I have a never-ending reading list and so few books ever actually get the privilege of being revisited, but I was so entranced by this one I read it again a second time only 3 months later, something which in my busy schedule is pretty much unprecedented. In short, I now consider myself a reveur. So yeah, it’s good. Go read it.