A few months ago I read The Night Circus, the debut novel of Erin Morgenstern. It wasn't perfect and it wasn't quite what I expected, but it definitely left an impression.
The story centers on a circus, but it's not like any circus you've ever seen. There's so much more to it than popcorn, elephants, tumblers, and magic acts. The circus is made of incredible, awe-inspiring tents that so mesmerize their spectators, a special club forms made of people who love the circus so much, they practically worship its eccentricities. The circus is also the setting for a behind-the-scenes, mysterious duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. Both are trained by famous older magicians, but neither knows the true reason for their duel. As they compete to create the most wondrous feats, they somehow fall in love. But both know that only one can win the duel.
The circus itself is just magical. I would start naming off some of the more enchanting tents but I don't want to spoil their magic for anyone who hasn't read the book yet. I love that it's only open between nightfall and dawn and that almost everything within it is colorless. I love all the mystery surrounding it and how it's so special, attracting its own unique group of obsessed fans. Morgenstern does a great job describing her magical setting and leading the reader through it. From the first few lines of the novel, I was hooked:
"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."
Such a great, intriguing start to a story. I also love the non-linear structure of the book, the present tense used throughout (which doesn't feel self-conscious, as it sometimes can), and the sections in second-person that put the reader in the shoes of a circus guest.
However, as much as I loved all that and loved the circus itself, The Night Circus did bother me occasionally in its plot. The duel was never well explained, even at the end when its mysteries ought to have been revealed. Although their role in the story is very important, the two men training the magicians remain in the background throughout and their reason for engaging in the duel is left unclear. Even the love story felt unexplained, leaving the reader to assume Celia and Marco's attraction to each other is built purely on physical attraction and respect for the other's talent.
I think Morgenstern is very talented, but it did seem like description and setting elevated the book to a place it shouldn't be based on its plot. Still though, it was a very good read and the most magical book I've read this year. I wouldn't be surprised if I dream of the circus tonight and that, I think, shows the true beauty of this book. TITLE: The Night Circus AUTHOR: Erin Morgenstern PUBLICATION DATE: 13 September 2011 VERDICT: 4/5 stars.