In 1886, a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Revés delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. It comes without warning and go without too, one minute the circus is there in the horizon, another day it is gone.
Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, the Circus of Dreams is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the réveurs – the dreamers. Celia Bowen, the daughter of famous magician Hector Prospero and Marco Alisdair, the reserved assistant of Alexander H, the man in grey suit have set Celia and Marco up to participate in a duel. The last time the duel set against Tsukiko, the contortionist and her opponent, her opponent was reduced to dust.
The Night Circus contains many casts. There is Tsukiko, the contortionist and Herr Frederick Thiessen, the brilliant clockmaker, Isobel the fortune-teller and Marco’s lover, the management and investors of the circus, Chandresh, Mme Padva, Tara and Lainie and Mr Barris, who enjoys a private lavish party after a successful opening of the circus night. The duel is complicated by Marco and Celia’s love relationship. And in Marco’s words, “To win would be worse than losing.” How would they continue their duel without hurting each other?
Fast forward 5 years from the start of the circus, in Concord Massachusetts, a young boy Bailey has accepted a dare and trespass into the circus tent. He met Poppet, one of the Murray twins, whose brother named Widget, and soon struck up a fascination that will last for years.
Soon as both stories come together and the gap between the years are closed, the duel between Celia and Marco is intertwined with Bailey’s fascination with the circus. What would it be?
I can see there have been hypes aplenty surrounding the books. Not that I did before but now I noticed. I got curious about the book and went to the shops and found this absolutely beautiful hardback for £1.50.
I’m two minds about the book. First let me tell you what works for me.
I love circus and this book brought me back to my childhood experience of watching a circus. The story conjured up vivid images about the circus atmosphere. I am enthralled by the magic of Celia’s act on the circus and I like that every chapter opens up with an introduction to a tent. I read with heartache of Isobel’s unreciprocal love from Marco. I read between the pages to seek for metaphors about pursuing your dreams and the obstacles of attaining it. The prose is simple and engaging. On top of that, I could find a few of favourite passages from the book:
I have seen a great many things that I might once have considered impossible, or unbelievable. I find I no longer have clearly defined parameters for such matters. I choose to do my work to the best of my own abilities, and leave others to their own. – Mr Barris, page 152
You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough. – Celia, page 360
Before you leave, the fortune-teller reminds you that the future is never set in stone. – page 372
And what about the book which did not work for me?
I can’t put my finger on it (or maybe I can) but I perhaps it is because I appeal to reason more than magic realism I find many of the stories and magic frivolous and without any sense of purpose. I agree with Aths to the certain extent that I like my magic explained and I read the whole series of Harry Potter and enjoyed them. I read through third quarter of the book and I was underwhelmed and can only say the last 100 pages attract more of my attention. The Night Circus slips to and fro between the two time periods, but doesn’t come close to the ingenuity of the The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I suspect was why Audrey Niffenegger was asked to commend about the book.
Everything about this book screams “hype” over everything else. The beautiful cover and pages, with dashes of red and red bookmark (how I love them!). Endorsements from Audrey Niffenegger and Tea Obreht (whose book The Tiger’s wife I didn’t think much of). I just feel it all distracted from what a good book should be: memorable characters that readers could invest in and one that makes you think deep and far long after you put down the book. Unfortunately, this book gave me the appearance of style over substance. Give me a book of substance without much style any day and I’ll tell you which one I’d prefer.
Perhaps this would explain why someone would give away such a beautiful book to the charity shop.
Hardback. Publisher: Harvill Secker 2011; Length: 387 pages; Setting: Europe / USA. Source: Own copy. Finished reading at: 31st March 2012.
Read about readers who either love it or didn’t like it:
Aths@reading on a rainy day: I loved the characters that made up this book – there were so many of them with their own independent minds and thoughts, so much so that I did feel disappointed that some of them didn’t have bigger roles. Unfortunately, this is where the book failed – the characters become a pawn to the plot. In trying to the move the story to the conclusion, the characters that don’t matter to the story anymore get sidelined.
Chinoiseries: I particularly like the fact that the game is not simply about showing off to one another, but how it also challenges the players to carry responsibility for the repercussions of their actions on their playing board and in the outside world. People are not pawns and teachers are not always right. Everybody counts and every loss is mourned. The Night Circus is a beautiful reverie with nightmarish moments, from which you don’t really want to wake up.
Judith@leeswammes: I was expecting to also want to give up after some time. But I kept liking the book, and liking it more and I wondered when this point would come that I wouldn’t like it anymore: It didn’t happen – I liked all of it. I should have skipped the negative reviews so I would have had a better reading experience. As it was, I’d say this is one fine book that will be counted among my favorite books for this year. Stop reading the reviews, read the book! Rating: 5/5
Book Whisperer: This was definitely a case of style over execution. The plot felt weak. The visuals were good but the plot was more of a whimper than a bang and I found myself rushing it in the hope of getting to the end and being rewarded which I never felt I was. It’s a shame – I wanted to love it but I really didn’t.
Wilfrid Wong: A small part of the book is written is second person, ‘you’. It is unusual and rare. It works well. If you love magic like I do, chances are, you will be drawn into the story, materializing the circus inside the boundary of your imagination. When that happens, you know the author has done something remarkable. The Night Circus will capture your imagination. Be fascinated. Go ahead and try it out today.
About the writer:
Erin Morgenstern was raised in Marshfield, Massachusetts and studied theater and studio art at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, graduating in 2000. In addition to writing, she paints, mostly in acrylics, including the Phantomwise tarot deck. She signed with Inkwell Management in May 2010 after being rejected by thirty literary agents, and sold her debut novel to Doubleday in September 2010; The Night Circus was published in September 2011. She has participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2003, and first wrote about what would become The Night Circus in November 2005. Morganstern still resides in Massachusetts.
In an interview with the School Library Journal, Morgenstern describes the short, self-contained chapters as recapitulating the myriad tents of the circus, and the black and white with a splash of red motif as showing dangerous passion simmering just below the surface.
The Night Circus is a candidate for the 2011 Guardian First Book Award.