a journey to the night circus

March 31, 2014

erin morgenstern the night circus

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white-striped tents awaits an utterly unique experience, a feast for the senses. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves and is only open at night.

"Beyond the smoke and mirrors however, a competition is underway between two young illusionists, trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial masters. Unbeknownst to the players, this is a game in which only one will be left standing, and the circus is but a stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

"Despite the high stakes the players come to unwittingly think of the game not as a competition but as a wonderful collaboration and with no knowledge of how the game will end, set off a domino effect of dangerous consequences that leave the fates of everyone involved hanging in the balance."


So this past weekend I finished reading Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, and as promised I wanted to share my thoughts on it inviting discussion with those who have also read it. It should go without saying, but what follows is most likely to include 'spoilers' of some sort or another, so feel free to click away now if, like Herr Thiessen, you would rather not know more of the Circus’ secrets...

erin morgenstern the night circus
So what did I think?

Now that I am finished reading I would say that overall I did like The Night Circus, though at times I felt it was slow going especially during most of the first half of it. Told in a non-linear timeline from the get go that spans more than a century, I also found it confusing to follow the sequence of events, though eventually as more was told this no longer seemed to matter. Fortunately the viewpoints of events as told from the perspective of Bailey and the unknown voyeur helped to anchor the flow of the tale in this reader’s mind.

After a slow start during which much detail was given to descriptions of how every player came to be connected to the Circus, the story really started to pick up speed in part three as the dream began to unravel. Each of the series of unfortunate events that then began to occur both took me by surprise and hooked me even more into the story as I eagerly wanted to find out what happened. Of all of these, the ill-timed meeting of Bailey with Poppet before the Circus’ final departure was the most surprising as I was truly rooting for him to join the Circus. And I was confused and then saddened to read of Friedrick’s unexpected demise. I liked this character very much and would love to have seen his clock.

So far as the central story about this being a ‘ferocious battle’ and ‘burning love affair’ between to opposing illusionists, I think this has been somewhat misrepresented. Instead it seemed to be very much a conspiratorial collaboration from the get go even though they were unaware of each other’s part. There never seemed to be any evidence that they were rivals which I was expecting to find, and I wonder if this is the point that the author was trying to make of Hector and Alexander’s choice to bind their players to the challenge. That such a thing is imperfect and doomed by its very nature. Certainly the fates of their previous entrants seemed to repeat this same pattern.

Though the central point of the story seems to have been not examined in quite the detail I would have wished for, the Circus itself was exquisitely imagined with clearly much thought and attention given to its atmosphere and character. Being a lover of illustrated books and miniature things it comes as no surprise that I would love to peek inside Marco’s detailed notebooks of the Circus and the room he devoted to housing his scale model. I also look forward to seeing how the various locations, artefacts and costumes are translated to film.

erin morgenstern the night circusv
Needless to say The Night Circus is more than simply a tale of ‘star-crossed lovers’, albeit magically enhanced ones, as it has far more depth and layers to it than that. The themes of what it means to seek immortality, the true identities of Hector and Alexander, and the true consequences of binding one thing to another, and many more that escape me.

I could go on about this book at far more length, but for now I hand it over to you. Have you read The Night Circus? What did you make of it? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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