The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Two children are bound by magic in a game where they are destined to face each other in a distant future. Neither knows who their opponent is at first, nor what the game is all about. This only becomes clear to them as the years progress and their magical skills mature. Other than knowing who the two opponents are, we as the audience, are also unaware of the nature of the game.
I read this book purely out of sheer blurb curiosity. The description was so deliciously vague and the reviews so enthusiastic it was begging to be read. From what I could surmise it was about a circus with supernatural elements which I liked the idea of.
What I was not aware of, and about which I am pleased in hindsight, is the fact that it was part love story. I say I’m pleased because had I known there was a love story at the heart of this I would most likely not have read it. Having read it however, I am happy to say that it’s one of the sweetest love stories I’ve ever read-mind you, I don’t really read love stories so don’t have a lot of experience to speak of-paradox?
“The Night Circus” is a truly unusual book; not because it tells the story of the aforementioned magical circus but because it is mostly narrated in the present tense, though it keeps jumping backwards and forwards a few years depending on the chapter, something I only realised a few chapters in. It’s not imperative that you keep a close eye on the timeline but it helps to be aware of it. It is linear for the most part and there isn’t much of a back story as much as a present story which continues uninterrupted for about thirty years.
“The Night Circus” is also somewhat of a formal book. Much like the Victorian aesthetic it adopts, the language keeps the reader a little at arm’s length with a sense of linguistic formality that is subtle enough to position you in the mind set of the period but also present enough to keep you squarely in the position of the audience; both the book’s conscious audience but also a member of the circus’ audience which watches enthralled as the magic takes place. This is where this book’s skill hides in my opinion. Each word in there feels carefully selected to convey the complex imagery and emotion required. This careful wording manages to create a beautifully decorated, rich and flamboyant world. I could literally sense the clutter in the rooms, the texture of the fabrics, the effect of the magic and the stakes involved. Rarely has a book been so successful at conveying a three dimensional experience with the ability of alerting all my senses.
The only place I feel it lacked a bit was in the cohesion. At times it felt like less important characters got more screen time than they deserved considering their overall contribution to the work. For example, the love story only really takes off a little over half way, and considering how pivotal it was to the conclusion of the book I was left feeling like it needed to be a little more centre stage.