07/09/15 - 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is as much about a night circus as Trainspotting is about drugs, The Fault In Our Stars is about cancer or Fight Club is about men beating each other up.  Such is the way with good books.  You should never judge one by its cover - or in this instance, its title.  There is so much more to The Night Circus; it's a tale of adventure, friendship, magic and romance, it's a battle of dreams versus reality, and above all it's an utterly beautiful flight of fancy which had me enthralled from the very beginning.

The plot has many threads and spans a period of thirty years, but the main arc follows a contest agreed upon by two elderly magicians in the late 1800s which binds their two young students, Celia and Marcus, together in an ongoing game which neither contestant truly understands until many years of play have already passed.  The arena for their competing talents is the Cirque des RĂªves (the Circus of Dreams), a monochromatic ethereal circus which travels all over the world and only opens at night.  Celia and Marcus spend years making adaptations and improvements to the circus' already remarkable design as a means of demonstrating their magical talents.  As the competition rages on, the circus attracts a lot of attention and develops something of a cult following.

It's Morgenstern's use of language that makes this book an absolute treat to read.  Always perfectly paced, her attention to detail is precise without being unnecessarily descriptive and the circus and its inhabitants really come to life.  Through her words, the atmosphere and ambiance are palpable and the fantastical elements seem entirely believable.  Like the circus itself, the book reveals its details to you bit by bit.  I could totally imagine wandering the winding pathways between the black and white tents, anxious to discover what is around the next corner because that was how it felt approaching each twist and turn of the narrative.  Every time you uncover a new detail which answers one question, several more pop up in its place and it just makes you hungry for more.  I totally devoured this book as quickly as my busy work schedule would allow me because I was so eager to immerse myself in the world each time I picked it up.

We follow a whole host of exciting characters, some may say too many to be explored fully in a standalone novel.  This is a real shame because, particularly in the case of Chandresh who is the creator and proprietor of the circus, and Tsukiko the contortionist, there starts to be some really interesting development which is never fully discovered.  That said, the figures that we are more actively following seem to be pretty fleshed out and their relationships are well imagined - the friendship between Bailey and the twins, Poppet and Widget, is one which particularly springs to mind.

Although it may not appeal to everyone, I quite liked that The Night Circus contains the idea that magic is a skill that can be taught rather than an innate power you are born with.  Some have more natural ability than others, but it seems as though anyone can be trained in the art of magic.  For some reason, that really struck a chord with me and I quite liked the concept that you don't have to be particularly special in any way in order to do extraordinary things.  As Celia says, "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, and you care enough to do what needs to be done.  Sometimes that's enough."  I think it's very reassuring to be reminded that spectacular results can come from hard work, perseverance and passion.

In all honesty, I don't think I can properly articulate exactly what it is about this book that made me love it quite as much as I did.  The plot is complex but not overly so, the central characters are well-rounded and all of the characters are fascinating, and the language makes it an absolute journey for the senses.  But overall, the feeling of wonder that it left me with is something I haven't experienced in a book for a long time.  I think the last thing I read that made me feel quite so excited was The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes - you can read my original review from two years ago here but I'm tempted to revisit it soon (partly because it's being adapted into a film which has just been successfully funded through Kickstarter, partly because that old review made me cringe a little!  It really doesn't do the book justice).  Although much darker and set in a very different time period, it also features a lot of elements of magical realism and it's a beautifully-written novel.  

As someone who had heard rave reviews about the book before picking it up, I wanted to add my voice to the discussion.  I bought it on impulse to see what all the fuss was about, and I'm really glad that I didn't miss out.  Hopefully this review will encourage somebody else to do the same and in turn, they can pass it on to someone else.  Such is the way with good books.

If you've read The Night Circus, let me know what you thought in the comments.  Also, any and all book recommendations are more than welcome!

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