Let’s Dream of Circuses, or my review of The Night Circus

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The Night Circus 

by Erin Morgenstern

Publisher: Doubleday

Publication Date: September 13th, 2011

Format Read: Paperback



The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called “Le Cirque des Reves,” and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

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4 star rating



I picked this book up a few years ago, mostly because it was a Nanowrimo novel (as in, a novel written during National Novel Writing Month). I’m always eager to read books like these, mainly because it gives my yearly Nano quests purpose. So I bought it from the bookstore, brought it back to my dorm, and picked it up on a rainy day.

There are few books that I will say are actually magical, but this happens to be one of them. Erin Morgenstern has a way with words that I have found few others to have…really, a way with description. This book will never become a classic, for issues that I’ll discuss later, but it is absolutely worth reading if you want to just wallow in paragraphs describing the circus, clothes, characters. You fall in love, not necessarily with the book itself, but with the night circus–Morgenstern paints it as beautifully as a picture.

The Night Circus is fantasy, probably best fitting within the ‘fairy tale’ genre. You have two children, picked to compete in a mysterious, sorcerous competition and bound irrevocably to one another without even having met. You have Chandresh Christopher Lefevre, melancholic creator of mysteries and masterpieces. You have Bailey, a child on a farm in New York that yearns for something more. You have Tsukiko, strange contortionist and mystery woman, and Poppet and Widget, two adorable red-headed twins who can read the past and the future. All of these delightful characters mix and mingle in the Cirque De Reves, a circus that opens only after dusk, a circus whose colors are only black and white, a circus where true magic can be glimpsed…and this circus is the setting for this grand competition.

There is no way not to be drawn in.

Admittedly, the book does have its downsides. While many of the characters are beautifully formed, the main ones, Celia and Marco, are a bit less so. Perhaps this is because they are the ones most connected with the plot–and the plot, despite the glitter of the rest of the book, is simply lackluster. You have your typical written-in-the-stars romance, which is doomed to fail because of the requirements of the competition, and Celia and Marco spend the entire book desperately trying to avoid the inevitable end. Really, by the last few chapters you’re hoping for a Romeo and Juliet situation, so that the book will be rid of them and you can continue reading about the circus. But, while all of this romantic angst is going on, the rest of the book and the circus is proceeding just fine, so I generally just skim the romance until I get back to the circus parts. (Or, depending on the mood, avidly gobble up the romance while muttering under my breath ‘JUST LOVE EACH OTHER ALREADY’. But still, so much unnecessary angst).

Props for magnificent characters go to Poppet, Widget and Bailey, despite the fact that I think they’re probably supposed to be minor ones. All three are characters who are formed, in many ways, not by the competition and its downsides, but by the wonder of the circus itself–especially Widget and Poppet, who are born just before and just after midnight on the grand opening. Although Celia and Marco are the magicians, Poppet and Widget are the ones with true magic. Bailey is meant to be us, the audience, and I think that’s why I probably identify with him the most–he’s had a taste of true magic, and he’s not stopping until he can get more. He looks at his lackluster life and asks ‘is that all?’

And the descriptions. The descriptions of the circus are absolutely to die for. The costumes, the food…Morgenstern brings the Cirque de Reves to life in a way I have seen few other authors really do. And, in my mind, that is worth any lackluster plot (well, mostly), just so I can fall into this fantastical, 1800s magical world and pretend I’m a reveur. I want to have a costume designed by Mme. Padva, dance at one of Chandresh’s parties, applaud at Celia’s tricks, play with Poppet and Widget and Bailey, and spend a night wandering the circus. That’s why this book is magical to me–despite everything else, it sucks me in and makes me wish I were someplace else.

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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.

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