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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I must say, Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" is a book for a certain kind of reader and that reader is me. Judging from the response this book has been getting and the loads of early buzz that reader is quite a lot of other people as well. I say "a certain kind of reader" because I want to be clear - I am about to gush about this book but I know it is not for everyone. I found the story to be engaging but I was often removed from the plot and much more interested in the incredibly vivid imagery than what went on between the characters.

The novel begins with a single exciting sentence, "the circus arrives without warning." And this circus is a thing of beauty; it is supported by two magicians, Celia and Marco, who are in a competition that is meant to be a duel but never ends up seeming like one. Instead, they begin to compliment each other's enchantments rather than competing against one another. They have been tied together from a very young age as their teachers' most recent pawns in a centuries long battle over magical methodology. Le Cirque Reves is the showplace for this particular duel. Celia and Marco create tents of magical wonder disguised as mechanical illusions, and that is the real heart of the book. When Morgenstern begins describing one of the tents (more and more are added as the story progresses) everything else seems secondary, and by everything I don't merely mean the story at hand I mean life, the universe, and everything. The imagery created in "The Night Circus" is the best kind of escapism ... this world so vividly described is one that I want to belong to.

I feel like my thoughts can best be expressed in a quote by Friedrick Thiessen a character who looked in on the circus from the outside and dedicated himself to it.
I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I relay it through printed words on crumpled newsprint, words that they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless of time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will. When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn't it?
Morgenstern does for us what her imagined Thiessen did for his readers, she provides us with a way to visit the circus. She gives us this most elegant world of dreams through words. That truly is a type of magic.

I'm sure that we could easily get into a critical discussion about what it all means, as there is plenty here to debate (competitive vs complimentary relationships, form vs chaos, the importance of storytelling and magic, etc) but really this book just begs to be felt. I escaped into it during the long nights of a difficult weekend and had my own dreams of Le Cirque des Reves. I know it sounds cliched to describe a book about magic as enchanting but there it is. "The Night Circus" is absolutely enchanting. It held me under a spell that I did not want to find a way out of.

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