The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
When I began this book, the opening pages immediately transported me back to 1962, when I read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes for the first time; after all, a carnival, or a circus, that appears out of nowhere in the dead of night, was done pretty well by Bradbury in Something Wicked, and I wondered if there was really a way to do it better. I won’t say The Night Circus was better, as the two books are apples and oranges, but I will say I liked The Night Circus every bit as much as Something Wicked This Way Comes, though for very different reasons. While Bradbury’s book was a really creepy story that left me looking over my shoulder for years, and with a fear of carousels that has lingered to this day, Morgenstern’s book left me with a whole ‘nuther feeling, altogether. One much more romantic and dream-like.
I don’t know that Night Circus is a book for everyone, but I loved it. At first, I was unsure of where the story was going, but even at that point, I loved the prose. I’m a person who enjoys descriptive writing greatly, so Morgenstern’s style was right up my alley. I felt she had a wonderful way with phrasing that worked very well within the boundaries of a book with a setting grounded in magic of every kind. Why shouldn’t the words sound as magical as the events I’m reading about? So, even though I had no sense of direction, initially, I enjoyed the telling of the tale from the start. Once I actually began to understand the characters, I was totally hooked. Writing that works for me, and characters I love? I couldn’t ask for more.
Okay, that’s a lie. I could have asked for one thing more. I could have asked that the story not be told in such a hop, skip and jump through time fashion. I’m fine with a story that has flashbacks or secondary stories set in a different time frame from the main story. But this book traveled forward and backward through time to such an extent that I spent way too long flipping back and forth trying to understand the order in which things were happening. I mean, if Chapter 10 was set in December 1886, Chapter 11 might be set in September 1904, then Chapter 12 might be set in October of 1886, then it might jump to 1901, then 1902, then 1901 again. It would move ahead three days, then move back six years, with no discernible pattern explaining the skipping around. I think it was just meant to be an imaginative way of telling the story, but for me, the whole Circus of Dreams was so beautifully imaginative in itself, it didn’t need the time travel trick to embellish it. I would have found it much more enjoyable if the story had been even a slight bit more linear, but instead, the gimmick kept pulling me out of the story, in order to figure out if a scene was happening before or after this or that other event. Hence my four star review. I would probably have gone for 5 without that approach.
I have to say that I found the lives of the two main characters, Celia and Marco, to be painfully sad at times, especially their childhoods. Marco’s cold, uncaring, and cruel guardian was detestable, but Celia’s miserable childhood was caused by her own father, and that was infinitely worse. It was a miracle to me that they found each other, and were even capable of love at all, much less capable of the enormous sacrifices they made for each other. But no matter what drama was going on with the various players in the Cirque des Reves, the overriding theme of it all was the hypnotic, magical splendor hidden inside each black and white striped tent. I found the book to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable I’ve read in a long time. It made me long for such a circus to show up over night in my town, though I have no idea whether I would ever have the courage to enter the gates.
I highly recommend it to anyone with a love of all things magical and beautiful, and who has the ability to believe in ideas beyond what we think we know to be true. It also helps to have a romantic heart, and a sense that love can prevail, no matter the odds.
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