A Visit to the Night Circus

The cover doesn't do it justice
The cover doesn’t do it justice

Erin Morganstern wrote a letter for NaNoWriMo a year or two ago, about how her novel, The Night Circus, began.  It started as a NaNo project, and when she got stuck, she sent the characters to a mysterious circus…which then took over the story.  Having finally read the book, I can easily imagine why!

The novel centers around Le Cirque des Reves (Circus of Dreams), and a contest of magic.  The two participants are Celia, the illusionist, and Marco, the founder’s assistant.  Both were entered into the contest as children by powerful and unscrupulous men; neither fully understands the rules, or has any guess at the consequences.  The circus becomes the venue, each one trying to outdo the other with more elaborate feats, more impressive tents—until the contest becomes more like a collaboration, and then finally a love story.  Woven through their story is the story of Bailey, a young man drawn to the circus in a way he can’t explain, and to Poppet and Widget, twins born backstage the same night the circus opened.

By all logic, the circus should be the backdrop for the contest and the romance—but in many ways, I think the contest and the romance are really just a framework for the circus.  This is a marvelously magical and surreal book, centered on a marvelously magical and surreal circus. In style it reminds me most of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, with its vague lines between dream and reality.

Grounded in circus traditions, like contortionists and acrobats, Le Cirque de Reves takes it all to a new and dizzyingly level.  The circus is a maze of tents, with always something new to discover–an illusionist who changes books into birds, a climb through clouds or a walk through an ice garden, the Wishing Tree with its branches full of candles, or the tent full of bottles where every scent tells a story.

One thread of the story is the reveurs, an informal society made up of people who love the circus.  They follow it from place to place, visiting favorite tents or discovering new ones, and sharing stories with each other about what they have found and what it means to them.  In many ways, every reader is invited to be a reveur.  We’re following the stories of Celia, Marco and Bailey, but for me at least, I was really following Le Cirque des Reves

Celia and Marco do fall in love eventually, but it’s a long way into the book before it happens, so don’t come into this expecting it to be primarily a romance.  Mostly, this is a trip to a very special circus.

Author’s Site: http://erinmorgenstern.com/

Other reviews:
The Literary Bunny
Literary Traveler
Read Write Run Mom
Anyone else?

Buy it here:The Night Circus

6 thoughts on “A Visit to the Night Circus

  1. One of my favorite books. The cover is indeed beautiful and the story is such a treat. I wish she would get around to publishing something new, although this is one circus I don’t mind revisiting. If you ever get a chance to listen to the audio, Jim Dale’s narration is fantastic.

  2. dianem57

    Is this story plot-driven or more a series of vignettes? It sounds very interesting and different, with the circus really as the main character. I’ll bet there are a lot of good descriptive passages in it.

    1. Um…neither? It’s not really a series of vignettes (like a series of short stories), there is one over-arching plot, but it’s more driven by the setting than anything else. I’m not sure I can think of any other book like that!

  3. What a lovely review, Cheryl! My daughter has been pushing me to read The Night Circus, but although I’ve read any number of rave reviews, yours is the first that really gives me a sense of what to expect and entices me to read it at the same time.

    1. Aww, what a nice comment! I’m so glad you found my review helpful. This is an unusual book in that it’s so heavy on *atmosphere*, so in a way I’m not surprised if other reviews have not provided very clear expectations! It’s a hard book to define…

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