Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   "Opens at Nightfall; Closes at Dawn." The Le Cirque des Rêves is a circus unlike any other, just as this magical debut novel is equally unique. At the center of The Night Circus spectacle are two specially gifted young magicians, Celia and Marco, pitted against each other in professional competition, drawn towards one another in love. Erin Morgenstern's literary fantasy has already drawn raves for its captivating evocativeness: "A world of almost unbearable beauty.... A love story on a grand scale: it creates, it destroys, it ultimately transcends." "A novel so magical that there is no escaping its spell... If you choose to read just one novel this year, this is it."

And here's what I thought:   You may have seen flutterings around the blogosphere about this book.  Certainly, if you look on GoodReads, there are 869 reviews.   From what I can tell, readers either seem to really love this book, or really dislike it.   That alone tells me something, because when a book seems to polarize people like that, something's happening (because if a book is just mediocre, no one bothers talking about it all).

I saw one review that said that if you don't like magic, don't pick up this book, because it's all about the magic.  I agree -- if you don't like magic, pass this one up.   But, if you do.... if you do love magic, and you love fantastical imagery, you should read this book.   Is this book perfect?  I don't think so.  However, I found myself completely enchanted by it, staying up late and taking breaks at work just to read it.

I admit that I have always had a fascination with the circus.  One of my favorite books is Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, the tale of the dark circus that comes to town one October and whose proprietor, Mr. Dark, has some secretive and unpleasant things for those who come to the tents.    In this story, there isn't anything overtly unpleasant, but rather, a sense of something dark that runs through and underneath, never lingering long enough for you to really see it, or put your finger on it... but you sense it nonetheless.   The characters sometimes remain a bit of an enigma, so throughout the story, you are unsure of who they really might be, and whether their intentions are good or not.   And what lies inside the black and white tents?   Fantastical things that stretch the imagination and belief. 

To read a story like this, you need to suspend your belief.  You cannot demand that things be completely real, or be explained.  That's the essence of magic, isn't it?  If you have seen the movie, The Illusionist, and watched the scene with the orange tree, then you know what I mean.    If you insist on knowing how the illusion is performed, it spoils the experience --- and I think that's the key to this book.   The author doesn't always explain things, and you just need to relax about it and enjoy the story.

I enjoyed the writing in this book.  I felt the author really crafted certain parts of it, taking care with her language to make reading as delicious an experience as possible.  The story at times leaves a bit to be desired, since things aren't always explained, and characters can seem a bit ....thin.   However, I wasn't bothered by this.  I was so captivated by the writing, and the story, that I got caught up.   And, I'm not one of those readers that always needs things explained fully ---- I like to have my mind opened up so that I can be free to let my imagination loose.

So, if this sounds like your kind of story, I'd definitely encourage you to pick it up.   I've got this on my "treat myself for Christmas" list.

** And ... a bonus point to the author for a cool librarian reference: "The Burgess sisters arrived together.  Tara and Lainie do a little bit of everything.  Sometimes dancers, sometimes actresses.  Once they were librarians, but that is a subject they will only discuss if heavily intoxicated."  (p. 57)

First sentences: 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.
Thoughts on the cover:  Perfect -- simple, but detailed enough to catch your eye.   The one thing I will note is this: be careful when you open the book because the black/white striped end papers are a bit hard on the eyes (at least, on my eyes).


Jenni Elyse said...

I hadn't heard of this book until about two weeks ago. Now, I'm seeing reviews on it everywhere! It sounds so interesting and I'm definitely one for magic!

Angela's Anxious Life said...

I can't wait to read this book!!!!!!!


Sverige said...

A gorgeous, marvelous, and magical story. Part mystery, part love story, set against the dazzling background of a strange circus. The writing is both dream-like and visceral, it flows and sparkles like champagne! I'll definitely be looking for more from this author.

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