“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” ~ Page 3

TITLE: THE NIGHT CIRCUS

AUTHOR: ERIN MORGENSTERN

GENRE: FANTASY

PUBLISHER: VINTAGE BOOKS

PAGES: 490

As the nights get darker, and the days get colder, everyone starts to feel they need a little magic in their lives. This is exactly what Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus provides for its readers. Likened to Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, with the magical elements of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, this novel is a mixture of poignant love story, tragedy, fantastical fairy tale and period drama, which never fails to entrance and completely cast a spell over the reader.

Set in and around Les Cirque des Rêves, the ‘Circus of Dreams’, the novel follows two different plot strands: the story of illusionist Celia and her love interest Marco, and the tale of Bailey, a young boy who is enraptured by the circus. Utilising two different time zones, the action of the novel jumps forwards and backwards in time, predominantly to an alternative Victorian England before concluding in the present day. This transition between different time periods is occasionally disorientating but adds to the magic and the themes of secrecy and illusion that pervade the text.

“From the slightly sinister notion of a disappearing circus, to the adult themes of death, the novel is definitely not suited to younger readers”

The circus itself is definitely the focal point of the novel and features marvellous sights and magic amongst its many different tents; fantastical spectacles including a cloud maze, and a garden made entirely of ice, with flowers that continue to bloom. It is also completely mysterious, appearing suddenly without any warning and disappearing just as swiftly. Another fascinating feature is the fact that everyone and everything within the Circus wears, or is, black and white, leaving no other colour visible; ‘Even what little ground is visible from outside is painted black or white, painted or powdered or treated with some other circus trick’. This combines to create a sense of the fantastical, a place every one of us would want to visit to be astounded and confounded at every turn.

The characters within the novel are just as complex and well-written. From acrobats, performers and clockmakers, to the sinister duo behind the real reason for the existence of the circus, every character has their own individual nuances and character traits – even the most minor of ‘rêveurs’: the dreamers who follow the Circus from place to place.

“Complex, magical and intriguing – the appeal of the novel lies in those three words”

The tale, however, is not as fluffy as it initially appears. From the slightly sinister notion of a disappearing circus, to the adult themes of death, and more predominantly, suicide, the novel is definitely not suited to younger readers. Case in point is the first narrative page of the novel, where a suicide note comes attached to a five-year old girl. The reader is then introduced to Prospero the Enchanter and the mysterious Mr A.H-, whose actions and rivalry soon take a sinister turn in the training of their protégés, the aforementioned Marco and Celia. Both characters are bound to a competition, the rules of which they do not know, with their playing field being the circus – this competition being revealed as the very reason for the magical location’s existence. In competing, the pair inadvertently fall in love, which eventually proves fatal, as the competition rules decree the loser must die. The subplot of the novel, intertwining with Marco and Celia’s tale, is that of Bailey, his obsession with the Circus, and his attempts to save it from destruction.

Complex, magical and intriguing – the appeal of the novel lies in those three words, emphasising the intensity and oddity of human experience, and the hidden enchantment allegedly beneath the surface of our world. The novel is at times tragic, at others poignant, but always retains this sense of illusion and magic.  Reading this novel is consistently a treat for the senses, as Morgenstern describes each Circus attraction intricately and beautifully. Another interesting feature to note is the use of quotes, by both fictional and real personalities, which precede each of the book’s five parts. These quotes attempt to confirm the allusions made within the text that the Circus and its world are real and not just fictional creations. With a feature film reportedly in development for this wonderful novel, this dreary November is surely the perfect time to read and enjoy an entrancing and unique book.

9/10

Amy Wilcockson

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