Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
September 13, 2011; Doubleday


Summary

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 RĂªves, 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. (courtesy of Goodreads)

Review

The Night Circus is a book about a circus. Way to state the obvious, right? But if you pick up this book based on the synopsis online or on the cover flap, you won't realize this. The official blurb made me expect an epic romance centered on two characters with a fast moving plot all culminating in love happily ever after. Somewhat like Water For Elephants. That is not The Night Circus. So what is it about? The Night Circus is a book with an ensemble of actors who are each essential cogs in an unusual machine. There is only one star: the circus itself.

Go into The Night Circus expecting a beautiful, but somewhat slow read. The book spans decades and switches back and forth between plotlines and time periods. It's rather confusing at first (scratch that - it's very confusing at first). This was initially a criticism, but the more and more I think about the book, the slight disorientation that you get from the alternating time periods and stories only adds to the mystery and wonderment of the novel. It is set mainly in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but it could have been set in any time period.

The descriptions of the circus are incredible. The Night Circus is a magical circus - it couldn't happen in real life - but the closest thing I can compare it to is Cirque du Soleil. Interspersed between plot focused chapters are small sections describing various aspects of the circus, each written with dark beauty. It feels like you are meandering through the circus as you progress through the novel. Erin Morgenstern must have written this novel with a paintbrush. I could see, smell, and taste the circus. It was enchanting. I wanted to lean into the book in hopes that I could be sucked into the pages. You must read this book simply for the description of that circus.

The various plotlines are hard to piece together at first, but coalesced about halfway through the book as I understood where the story was likely to go and just how the alternating time periods worked. The circus was created as a test for Celia and Marco, highly talented wizards who are pawns in a great chess game devised by their masters. But they love the circus and its people and are not content to merely be the players in the game. They seek to master the circus and protect it. As the synopsis emphasizes, they do fall in love, but theirs is a subtle relationship. It's not the most important part of the story.

The stories of the supporting characters are as interesting and as important to the story as that of Celia and Marco. My favorite were the twins, Widget and Poppet, who were raised in the circus and perform an amazing show with trained kittens. Plus, I loved Bailey, a Massachusetts farm boy who longs for something more than sheep and cows and cannot keep himself away from the circus. The Night Circus switches back and forth between probably a dozen subplots. It is confusing and it is slow, but it is also complex and beautiful and fulfilling.

The Night Circus is a fine wine. Enigmatic, complicated, and full of subtle flavors that only reveal themselves over time. If you chug it down, it will be boring and flat, but if you sip it slowly and savor it, the book will unfold into a thousand layers, each more fascinating than the last. It is the type of book that you like better a month after you read it than when you finished the final page. The magic only grows.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

27 comments :

  1. I adored this book and I didn't want it to end. It was . . . well words can't even describe it. Great review!

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  2. I have this on my wishlist, and now I know better what to expect when I read it. Thanks for the detailed review. I'll be sure to read this in my savoring way, which is to say that I'll take my time reading it a little bit every day until I'm finished.

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  3. I've heard mIxed things about this one, BUT it definitely seems worth a read!

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  4. I loved your review I've been thinking about reading this one for a while now and I think you've sold it to me.

    The Night Circus is a fine wine. Enigmatic, complicated, and full of subtle flavors that only reveal themselves over time.

    Sounds like my type of book! :D

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  5. I'm impressed with this review. I read The Night Circus and liked it, but found it impossible to review - I just couldn't think how to describe it, but you've done a good job here. And you're right, you know. I have been thinking about this book more in the last few weeks than I did straight after I finished.

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  6. I loved your review. I read this book and did a review in December. I only give it three stars as it was somewhat lacking to myself. However, after contemplating for a few days, I decided it would be a very good book club book. Definitely would like my group to read it and then discuss it. I would definitely read it again for a discussion.

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  7. Thank you for a thoughtful and detailed review, Alison. I've got this one on my tbr pile and haven't gotten a chance to read it yet. It's always checked out from my library. I've heard that it's a bit slow paced and that the timeline is a bit confusing. Definitely a book where I would have to write things down in order to get it straight in my head. Nevertheless, it sounds like something I would enjoy.

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  8. I always find it interesting when the blurb makes the book sound so very different than it actually is. That just happened to me with Arcadia Awakens. Despite the slightly misleading synopsis, it's obviously still a brilliant story, and I love how the whole circus becomes a character in itself. Beautiful review Alison!

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  9. Fantastic review Alison, I wish I'd been so articulate of my thoughts in my own review. I loved the lack of chronology in the plot--like you said it was confusing at first but it really added to the mystery and suspense of the whole book. Totally agree this is something to be savoured: not rushed through!

    The Cait Files

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  10. I have heard a lot of good things about this book, and have picked this book up 3 times now, red the cover and blurb and then would pick a random page to read and nothing went together. I've been confused too, lol! Thanks for clearing it up. I actually think I can wait on this one and just borrow my sisters copy ;)
    Thanks for the detailed and very well written review!
    ~ margie

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  11. This was, I think, the best review I've read of this one. Excellent. Probably part of it is because you expressed exactly how I felt about it, and said it very well. Thanks for bringing it all back. Made me want to read it again (but that's not likely to happen any time soon...)

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  12. I've been seeing this book everywhere today! Maybe it's a sign and I should head off to add this to my Goodreads wishlist?

    Fab review!

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  13. When I first heard about this one, it didn't grab me, but it's been garnering such great reviews that I think I'll have to pick it up at some point.

    Glad you enjoyed it! :)

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  14. When you mentioned the time line, my mind immediately jumped to a story like Jellicoe Road. Which yes, causes some confusion, but leads to the same road. Thanks for clearing up exactly what TNC is about, I thought much the same as you, but it's interesting to know there is more involved in the story.

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  15. I think this is my favorite review of yours yet! Your analogy to wine is spot on. This is a book to be relished and cherished. I'm so glad you liked it too!

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  16. i can't wait 2 read this >_<

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  17. I was kind of disappointed in the love story, mostly because I was expecting some epic romance and it just didn't have enough page time. But what I got instead was gorgeous and strange and everything you described here. Sometimes I would just like to avoid summaries.

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  18. Alison, you totally convinced me to buy this book! Loved the review!

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  19. Great review Alison! I actually wasn't going to read this until I won a signed copy. I fell in love with it's majestic tone and descriptions.

    I hadn't really thought about it, but The Night Circus could've been set in almost any time. Erin did a beautiful job wielding the magic so it could exist anywhere and any time.

    ~Kristin

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  20. just read water for elephants and thought it was nothing compared to The Night Circus!

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  21. I loved this book! I really agree with all the points you made, especially about the plot strands being confusing at first, but it adding to the beauty of the book. I really hope Erin writes more! And i can't wait for the movie to be released!

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  22. Uhmm... I'm still undecided about this one. I read an excerpt (the first few chapters) but it didn't draw me in at all. Maybe someday I'll decide it's time to buy it and read it once for all, but not for the moment.

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  23. This is such a great review. I just forwarded it to a friend because I felt like I had such a hard time explaining the book to her.

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  24. I never knew what to make of this book - it's been so popular but the summary was so... meh? Awesome review! I don't think you could have set up my expectations for the book any better!!!! Nice analogy with the vino - think I'll go toast a glass to ya - Salute!

    Kristin @myparahangover

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  25. I still need to read this one. Thanks for the heads up that it's a slow read.

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