The Night Circus – Book Review
This was not a book I chose for myself. In fact it was given to me by my Aunt. While I love my Aunt, I question her taste in entertainment and so I placed the book on my shelf and let it sit there, collecting dust and doing nothing in particular until this weekend.
Desperately tired of the other books I have been trying and often failing to read, I sought the comfort of something familiar. While I was perusing my favourite novels I saw the black and white cover, accented with small flashes of red. The clear white lettering was accentuated with silver scroll work. This time the simple title called to me: The Night Circus.
As I removed the hardcover novel from the shelf I slipped the coloured jacket cover from it. I did not reread the book’s summary, for that was part of the reason I had left it unread on my shelf for the past few months. Instead, I cracked the black cover with its silver scroll work. I flipped past the bold back and white strip end papers to the title page. Beneath the title the author’s name was simply stated: Erin Morgenstern. The book was not filled with extraneous information, advertisements for other works by this author or another. In three pages I was plunging into the novel itself.
The Night Circus is an unusual read. It is written in two different styles: the first is a bit like a narration, almost as though the author is talking to you. The second style is a distant third person; though each chapter often follows a single individual it does not bring the character’s thoughts to the author. It reads like you are an observer watching the players move about the stage. You cannot hear their thoughts, only the words they utter to the world. You can only see the actions they perform. All of this is written in the present tense.
It was a very distant way of writing. The reader is kept separate from the characters. The story unfolds on the paper before them, but they are not actually a part of it. They are a spectator, capable of catching only glimpses of the characters. While two characters are considered the primary players by the jacket cover, I feel that is an over simplification.
The secondary performers are just as important, more so in explaining the whys and even the hows. The narrative touches on the actions of the primary characters, yet so little detail about their daily lives is recorded on the pages. This is not a novel dedicated to the minute happenings. We are not hand-held and intimate with the characters. We do not follow every day in their lives. Instead the story flits from one performer to another. We touch only briefly on moments in their lives. It is through these fleeting impressions and periodic happenings that the tale is built.
It starts small, with broad sweeping statements and generalizations. We are often told, told that Prospero is a great Magician, told that Celia and Marco study intently for years. There is no detail about how they study – or very little. We see the results of these efforts later. While some of these consequences are described in detail, there is a generalization to it that again makes things seem less personal.
Yet, there is a magic to the writing, a subtle mystery that drew me in. I followed slowly at first, cautious about what I was reading, uncertain I wanted to continue. I did not connect instantly with the characters. They were too remote to understand. But I was captivated by the Circus. Before I knew it, I was hooked. I had to know how the magic unfolded and the story ended.
The chapters often start with dates. It is not a new concept and truthfully it is something I often ignore. I read the date on the first chapter, noted it was set in the past and then continued. I recognized the second chapter took place a little later, but paid little attention to the details. It wasn’t until the date jumped that I became aware of the importance of those words and numbers. Part way through the sixth chapter I realized something didn’t fit. It was more than the change in perspective. Dates serve an importance in this narrative and they needed to be watched with care.
The book itself is like the Night Circus. It is a world of shadow and light, of illusion and theatre. The reader is the audience, watching as performers dance across the stage. While the style is far from traditional and almost cold in its presentation, it is also magical. The story unfolds slowly; gradually revealing its secrets, though there is much that is kept hidden.
It starts in a distant time, popular in fiction, and modified to achieve feats only reached in our dreams. My first inclination is to write this book off as some alternate imagining of our history. While the author has set the story in the real world, she had done so with a twist of magic. To reconcile book and life would be impossible – though it is often attempted. At least, that is what I though until I reached the end, the very last lines where real and illusion blur. Perhaps it is because she is not explicit with her words, though the suggestion is anything but subtle. The connection is made; the story is alive and somewhere out there is the Night Circus.