- Published: New York : Doubleday, 2011.
- Year Published: 2011
- Edition: 1st ed.
- Description: 387 p. ; 25 cm.
- Language: English
- Format: Book
- Magicians -- Fiction.
- Circus -- Fiction.
- Games -- Fiction.
- Circus performers -- Fiction.
- Fantasy fiction.
- Love stories.
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The night circus
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Where To Find It
Call number: Fantasy
Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways.
Reviews & Summaries
I finished my library copy, went to the bookstore, bought a copy (because I HAVE to own this one), and started over on page one. And then loved it just as much on the second time through. Gave away my copy and had to buy another one, though. (That friend also loved it.)
But here's the thing -- do NOT, under ANY circumstances, read the jacket or back cover! The fool blurb writer gives away something that the main characters (and therefore you, the reader) do not find out until 85-90% of the way through the book. Something that changes everything.
Here's what you need to know: It's set realistically from 1873 to 1904 (though feels quite modern) and is real-world, except for the fact that magic is real, if only known to a few and even then hidden by them. Two magicians have set a challenge between their students, though the students do not for a long time know who each other are. The venue is the night circus.
The writing is absolutely lush. The descriptions are intense and vivid, with sights, sounds, and even scents creating a tapestry of settings for the characters to unfold against. And ahhhhhh, the characters! They are delightful and nuanced, wonderfully complicated and realistically developed. The plot is fantastic, woven through time and space between partnership and conflict, between magic and mundane, between youth and experience, between love and cynicism.
I rarely read reviews before I write my own, but after my first read of this book I knew my own mind so thoroughly that I was curious what others would say. I was surprised to find a number of very poor reviews, but they seemed to be focused around a couple of things:
1. They read the blurb, and so had an expectation of the book that was unfair. The reviewer knew something the characters did not, and so judged the book by it. That's not the book's fault.
2. They did not like the highly descriptive nature of the book, and wanted less description and more action. Well, that's a style preference. Fair enough if this isn't your thing. I thought it made the book absolutely come to life.
3. Because it was so descriptive, they skimmed, and therefore they MISSED all kinds of important revelations that were embedded within! Again, unfair! One said something about a quote where Celia spoke with someone and "explained in generalities what was going on" and then ripped on the editor for not having the author use this as a chance to explain in detail. Well, if you'd been paying attention, all the details had already been laid out by this time.
So if you really don't like books with lots of vivid descriptions, then I'd have to agree that this might not be the book for you, but otherwise? This is hands-down one of the best books I've ever read. But I cannot impress upon you enough -- DO NOT READ THE BLURB. Buy the book, tape a piece of paper over the back, and write "Two young magicians meet in a challenge at the Cirque de Reve. Now read the book for the rest." Give it as a gift and do the same. But I have to think you're going to love this book.
Within a few pages, I found out. This book is MAGICAL. The publisher's blurb doesn't really do the plot justice. Here's a modified one: There are two illusionists, chosen at a young age to be bound to one another in a contest that will span their lives until one wins. They have been given no rules, other than that they must perform in some way. They have no idea how one wins, or what one must do to win. Their sponsors in the contest create the circus as the arena for their players. One will travel with it, the other will not. Their story is interspersed with the perspectives of several other characters within or affiliated with the circus, all of whom enrich the plot and provide a deeper look at the workings of the circus and those it touches.
I love the structure of this book. Too often a book with split narratives lingers too long on one or another of the characters, to the point that the reader forgets the other tale being told. Not with "The Night Circus". Most chapters are less than 5 pages long. Any character whose story you long to continue will return again soon. There are no boring narratives. Each is carefully constructed to yield more detail or nuance to the contest, the circus, or the sinister dealings of the competition sponsors. There are many two-page intervals designed to lead the reader through a tent or aspect of the carnival as if the reader were a patron on a tour.
The prose is beautiful - not too verbose, not too simplistic. Morgenstern has the rare ability to describe her fantastical imaginings in a way that is easily accessible. Reading "The Night Circus", I felt like I could see the contents of the tents, feel the fluffiness of the cloud maze, smell the caramel wafting in the air, gaze into the pool of tears, smell the scents in the table of jars. The author makes her creation real. She does so so well that I think the film will be a disappointment - no production company could make real the fantastical things Morgenstern makes me picture in my head.
The romance is gentle and slow-burning. There are no bodice-ripper sex scenes, no overwrought proclamations of undying passion. The romance between the two illusionists is a motivator of events, not the event itself. By sparing us the gory details, the author creates a fairy-tale atmosphere for her love story, a theme alluded to by several of the characters throughout the novel. This is a story about stories. Each character is equal parts vague and filled in. The reader never feels as if a character is fully revealed, but each has a magical quality nonetheless...like fairy tale characters. Morgenstern skillfully translates fantastical, fairy tale elements into a world where fairy tales are unexpected, and dull reality has taken hold (the book begins in the late 19th century in post-industrialized England where the population has seen magic disappear in a haze of coal burning factories and speeding locomotives - magic is now whatever we can mechanize in the name of progress). The author incorporates the 'seen it all' attitude of the people into her narrative - the people are mesmerized by a combination of magic and mechanics, illusions designed for their world. And yet the novel never devolves in 'steampunk' silliness. There is an air of timelessness that pervades every description, so that the circus can move from era to era untouched by the specifics of that time.
The novel approaches what could conventionally be called its climax about 40 pages from the end. But Morgenstern has created so many characters, so many different narratives to care about, that the resolution of the illusionists' contest has become simply one of many stories. I was grateful for the remaining 40 pages to tie together the other narratives intertwined with the illusionists' story. This was altogether a beautiful novel, and I was sad to see it end. Like the rêveurs, I wanted to travel along with the circus for awhile longer.
This is a book that appeals to all senses. You can almost smell the caramel, taste the popcorn, hear the crowds, see the performers, and feel the crowds.
The whole book is written in present tense. That might bother some, but personally, I've always loved present tense stories. It lends a sense of immediacy, of actually being there in the circus, that past tense cannot evoke.
A review really can't do it justice. I recommend it highly.
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