Written by Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus is a tale of intense beauty and imagination, and takes the reader on a journey within the magical world of the circus itself.
The plot is not difficult to follow (nor is it particularly fast moving). Two ancient magicians are locked in a magical rivalry that has been going on for centuries. They enact this rivalry by training pupils and using them to engage in magical competitions.
On this occasion, Hector Bowen chooses his six-year old daughter Celia, who already shows signs of being a promising magician. The ‘man in the grey suit’ (or Mr A.H.), meanwhile, chooses young orphan boy Marco Alisdair; a less promising candidate, but one that shows much potential nonetheless.
Celia and Marco are to engage in a competition which has vague and unspoken rules, undefined parameters, and the pair are not even sure who their adversaries are. What quickly becomes clear, is that the Night Circus is to be the arena – a dynamic stage for the two aspiring sorcerers to showcase their magic.
As the plot develops, Celia and Marco leave their magical mark on the circus, creating new spaces that evoke illusion and inspire emotion. With completely different styles, they create masterpieces of art, merge dream and reality, and communicate with the circus audience, and each other, with the creations that they make. They become enthralled with the work of the other, and entangled in their growing love. They become conflicted with the world of magic and the world of human emotion – will they be able to overcome fate, or are they destined to duel to the bitter end?
Some readers might find The Night Circus to be somewhat whimsical and contrived. Sometimes it all just seems a little too dreamy, yet the Night Circus has an almost undeniable charm. If at first I found it tedious and flamboyant, I soon became an active explorer in the world that Erin Morgenstern creates. The circus, which only opens after sunset, has to be read to be experienced. And the writer invokes it at every turn of the page until it becomes a solid illusion in the reader’s own inner world.
The Night Circus is an intensely visual book. That is where its true strength lies. As a reader, I found myself on a journey into a different reality – one that I was co-creating along with the characters. My imagination became child-like again. I wanted to read more because I became addicted to the circus, and to the feelings it brought about. As the circus evolved, so did my visual cortex.
There are also some philosophical undertones to the story and dialogue. Anyone who enjoys learning about the whacky world of circus illusions and ‘real’ magic will enjoy Morgenstern’s representation of the dark arts. The book isn’t going to teach you arcane knowledge, but it might reveal the odd revelation about the nature of illusion (and its faithful counterpart reality). The book also covers themes and conflicts such as freedom and fate, competition and collaboration, and love and self-sacrifice.
Many other crazy characters add to the overall feeling of otherworldliness, including dinner party host Herr Friedrick, a clock-maker, a contortionist, a tarot reader, and adorable twins Poppet and Widget. Each character has some sort of connection with the circus, and the interactions and character development is strong enough to facilitate the emotive fairytale-type story that Morgenstern tells. The main character dynamic is between Celia and Marco, who develop a strong passion for each other. This becomes one of the ultimate conflicts of the book.
As mentioned, the plot in The Night Circus isn’t particularly complex, and isn’t the real draw of the book. There aren’t any end of the world sagas here. You kind of have to let go a little bit and just enjoy the visual elements, but also feel your way through the pages. There are enough plot twists and question marks to keep you excited, but mostly it’s all about the development of the circus, and the magic within your own mind. Even the writing style annoyed me a bit at first, and did take some getting used to, but by the mid-point I came to believe that the style actually facilitated the imagery even more, and served to place the reader as an actual participant in the creation of the circus.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a light read with a magical atmosphere and a highly visual effect. For me, it isn’t going to make any classic lists any time soon, but I did find it an absolute joy to read, and I couldn’t put it down until I had explored everything that The Night Circus had to offer. I had a lot of fun, and that’s something that is missing from a lot of fiction. Sometimes it’s nice just to be able to enjoy what you are reading, and The Night Circus was undeniably enjoyable.