Sometimes a book comes along that will captivate you from the very first page and doesn't let go until you've finished reading it, for me The Night Circus was one of those books. In fact, when I reached the end I was very tempted to turn back to the first page and start reading it again. This has to be the most impressive debut I've read in a long time and I can't wait to see what Erin Morgenstern comes up with next, she has a rich imagination and a beautiful writing style that I'm sure will only improve in future books.
The story of The Night Circus begins with two magicians who both have different ideas on the best way to train an apprentice in the art of magic. They agree to a challenge and decide to pit their trainees against each other in a game that will take years to complete, a challenge that only one of them will survive. Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams) becomes the setting for his duel with Celia and Marco the unwitting pawns in the game with neither of them knowing the rules or even who their opponent is. The plot meanders towards the finish line but this book is all about the journey, the circus itself is a wonderful place to spend time in and is so beautifully described that it's like you're really there. You can see the acrobats and illusionists, you'll smell and taste the popcorn and caramel, you will walk through the labyrinth, spend time in the ice garden and possibly even make a wish at the wishing tree. I don't think I've ever been so fully transported into another world.
The circus wouldn't be the same without it's fantastic cast of characters, everyone from the performers to the reveurs (people who are so captivated by the circus that they follow it from town to town) have their role to play. I have to say that I loved the twins Poppet and Widget along with their friend Bailey but most of all I enjoyed seeing Celia and Marco grow into their roles as they tried to compete with each other. The story skips backwards and forwards in time and gradually unfolds as you start to realise how everything fits together, leading up to a breathtaking finale in a book that you won't want to end.
The Night Circus is a book that I will definitely be re-reading and I know I will be recommending it again and again to friends and family. I wish I could wipe the experience of reading it from my mind just so that I could pick it up and enjoy it for the first time all over again. If you want to be transported to a different world to experience the joys of the circus as if you were a child again then I would highly recommend this story. This will definitely make my best books of 2011 list and Erin Morgenstern has become an automatic buy author for me in the future.
on 14 December 2012
So, this is a tough one. I still can't make up my mind about this book. I'm hovering between 3 and 4 stars. I don't want to give away any spoilers because it really would spoil the effect of the book for those that want to read it, so I'll give you a potted overview.
The story is about a magical competition between Celia and Marco, instigated by her father and his mentor when they were children. Celia knows very little about the competition, not even who her opponent is, while Marco knows much more. And the location for the contest is Le Cirque des Reves. They do battle by creating more and more elaborate experiences (tents) within the circus, neither knowing how the contest will be won, but knowing there can be only one winner. Of course, there is the inevitable love story that ensues, though for a large part of the book the two protagonists are kept apart.
What was wonderful about this book was Morgenstern's beautiful, often elaborate prose and intricate descriptions. The tents, and what happened within them, really came to life with her detail and atmosphere. You felt as though you were really there and these magical experiences could actually be real because of the dexterity of the author. One of my favourite things in the circus was Herr Theissen's clock. What an extraordinary imagination Morgenstern has.
However, I also feel as though this was the book's weakest point as well. Because the circus was described in every detail, from the clothes to the food at the Midnight Dinners and the smells of the circus, because the story was told from so many points of view and places in time, I found it, not difficult, but awkward to really develop any attachments to the characters. I wasn't swept away with the story, but rather with the imagery.
Perhaps this was the author's intent. The book actually felt like someone's dream, one of those rare dreams that we all occasionally have that feels so real that when we wake up we feel disappointed because it didn't actually happen. The Night Circus was less of a story and more of an experience.
If Morgenstern could shape her characters as satisfyingly as she shapes the world she puts them in, I think she could be a prodigious talent. For a debut novel I was very impressed and I will certainly be interested to see what else she writes. It's not going to be one of my favourite books but all told, I think the book deserves 4 stars for the sheer commitment and bravery Morgenstern displays in not leaving any descriptive stone unturned. Not many books are written in this fashion and I admire her for trying something unusual. How successfully she achieves it is up to you.
"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."
So our story begins - the circus just appearing out of the ether as did my advance review copy of this debut novel, much to my delight. The UK edition looks stunning with black edged paper and end papers illustrated with a pattern of bowlers and top hats. This is a feast for the eyes which is perhaps not surprising as the author is an artist but will the inside match the luxurious facade?
This is an odd review for me as, amid all my oohing and ahhing, I was all too aware of how some of my bookish friends would absolutely hate this book and would be cringing from the opening pages. So, best to get that elephant out of the room before I go any further! If you don't like magical realism, if you're not a fan of meandering narratives, if you prefer action, if you don't like novels written in the present tense, if you don't like fantasy then there's nothing for you here. However, if, like me, you do like a bit of escapism, you like to slip into another world, if you enjoy visual stimulation, then step right up!
The story is perhaps the least important element of The Night Circus, that role being reserved for the circus itself but yes, there is an underlying narrative, the story of two gifted young illusionists, Celia and Marco, being pitted against each other in a lengthy battle the rules of which are vague. Le Cirque de Reves (the Circus of Dreams) is the battlefield and it soon attracts a faithful following of "reveurs" (dreamers) who follow its progress from town to town, continent to continent by means of a shadowy underground movement. There is a secondary storyline involving Bailey, a country boy who becomes linked to the circus and will have a key role in future events. There is a varied cast of weird and wonderful characters, including Celia's villainous father, Hector, his rival, Alexander, the man in the great suit as well as the supporting cast who keep the circus going. These are not characters you expect to empathise with, this is a show after all and they are there to entertain you just as the various tents house a myriad of visually stunning scenes, the Ice Garden, the Cloud Maze, the Labyrinth etc.
Some have compared The Night Circus with Audrey Niffenegger and yes, I can see slight similarities given that both authors are visual artists. Others mention Alice Hoffman and yes, I can see some elements in common but Erin Morgenstern has created a unique world with the Cirque de Reves and for those who are on the right wavelength she has provided a pathway to a singularly enchanting universe, one in which my inner child revelled. Highly recommended for all "reveurs"/dreamers.
on 17 July 2015
I can see the appeal of this book for many readers. From the description and reviews, I thought it was going to be one for me. The opening chapters were intriguing, leaving you with that "Ooooh" feeling. Little hints and implied statements that "nobody knows where he comes from", "We do not know what language he speaks", "there is something unseen at its base." These are great teasers, that should draw you in to the intrigue.
However, Morgenstern uses these teasers so much, almost on every page and definitely in every short chapter, that I soon got fatigued by them. And, then, some of them don't even makes sense: "We do not know what language he speaks" is a cracker. Erin, you're the writer and narrator of the story. So, you must have some idea. It doesn't even make sense that you (we) don't know. More and more of this "mystery" is piled up - but we aren't actually given a mystery to puzzle over, we are just told "you are mystified by this".
The mystery is drowned in a sea of its own mystery, and nobody knows what the mystery was and where it is now because it is a mysterious thing full of mystery. STOP IT!!! PLEASE STOP IT, ERIN, YOU'RE DRIVING ME CRAZY!!!!
So, after a while I was thinking: "You know what, Erin, I don't care if there's a mystery in this bit, because there's a mystery in all of it, and I've got that, so thanks, you don't need to keep badgering me about it. Just get on with the bloody story."
The novel is Rococo in its design. It builds baroque trope on baroque trope until the narrative is severely impaired by what are essentially tricks. It's marvellous that Celia can turn one thing into another. I mean, actually, it is a marvel. There's magic in creation. Yup. Get all that. But after a while there is no marvel left because you've had so many marvels. It's like continuing to have sex post-orgasm. What should be a joyous event chafes. That's what happens here. There's no character development and no character development. No stopping all the chafing to have a chat and find out about each other, and enjoy each other's company. Nope, just more shagging, chafing, oww, please stop, yowchiness.
So, what makes a narrative interesting? Well, one such thing is a great character. Just one would be a start. But even the main protagonists, A. H. and Hector Bowen are sketched so slightly that one has no idea why they do what they do. A. H. is a bit of a psycho really, who brings a child up in isolation, with study only. Then Hector is a bit of a psycho, wilfully breaking his daughter's wrists to teach her lessons.
The rest of the crew become indistinguishable. Like cartoon characters. The sisters with an eye for design. The contortionist who speaks in cryptic short sentences that really don't convey anything. The impresario who throws extravagant dinner parties in London where you might expect one - at least one interesting person - to turn up.
But you don't get anyone interesting. Ever. What you get instead is people who look interesting but are dead inside. They have no inner life. No sense of individuation or personality, but are clearly symbols allegories and ciphers placed there to add a bit of background colour to a narrative that simply doesn't move onwards.
One of the other problems in this book for me was the writing style. It's lush, visual and has a very slow rhythm, with elongated sentences. And that should be great, but becomes a problem. Because without a short snappy sentence from time to time to wake me up, I feel like there's a nerd whispering in my ear just boring me to an early grave. I have trouble breathing when I read this book, that's how visceral my response to her writing is.
So, I'm not going to say don't read this. I read Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast Trilogy where others threatened to slash their wrists - so I get that a book can be loved by some and hated by others. But I will say, be aware that you're not going to read a thumpingly driving narrative, or meet interesting people along the way.
What you will get is cinema. A long slow dream sequence that you may well fall into and become beguiled by, if (unlike me) you are lucky enough to get drawn on by the fairy light in the woods that leads you onwards to nothing.
Enjoy it on that level.
on 15 September 2011
Lucky enough to have read a proof copy of this title some weeks ago, I've been itching to tell you how good it is! If you want to be swept away then 'The Night Circus' will certainly snatch your imagination and take you on the most incrdible journey. Captivating and dreamlike, the tiny chapters will tempt you for hours on end.
I was seduced completely by the magic, the intrigue, the characters (none more impressive than the circus itself), the converging timelines of the plot, and a mix of chill air, caramel popcorn smells, dancing kittens, and the flap of black and white canvas. I read a lot, but its rare to find a book this special. Some books feel like more than books. Some books have jackets that may as well be false doors in the back of dusty old wardrobes, the way that they can instantly transport you to someplace magical. This is such a book.
Mooted to appeal to the Twilight generation (although this is much, much better) or even 'Harry Potter for grown ups', with film rights already snapped up before publication - I think this book has enough strength to be a smash hit in its own right. I hope it is. This is definately one to buy and keep and re-buy and gift to your friends...
When people drift away from reading as a habit, this is the kind of book i want to put into their hands to say "See? See what you're missing!?"
Bravo, Erin Morgenstern!
on 1 December 2011
I struggled to decide how many stars to give this book. On the one hand, I loved it. On the other, it fails as a story.
This is a story about the proteges of two magicians, bound by their mentors to play a mysterious game against each other. The playing area for the game is the Cirque des Reves - a circus which arrives and departs with no warning and only opens at night. Everything within the circus is black, white or shades of grey. There are acrobats, contortionists, big cat tamers, each the best of their kind, and a bonfire that burns pure white and never goes out. In one tent an illusionist - Celia, one of the players in the game - carries out impossible feats. In another a fortune teller (the lover of the other player, Marco) reads the cards for visitors. The circus is the brainchild of a group of eccentric and creative people who meet for wonderfully-described Midnight Dinners to plan it, but who find themselves unable to escape the pull of the dreamlike world they have created. As the circus travels, new tents appear, with Marco and Celia building tents for each other. They must play against each other, but they each are drawn to the mystery and beauty of each other's work, and eventually to each other.
If you read this book, it should be for the magical world of the circus. You feel as though you are really there, wandering through the circus, peering into the tents. You can feel the chilly night air, smell the smoke from the bonfire and taste the caramel apples. The short descriptions of individual tents scattered between the chapters are marvellous (the Pool of Tears, in particular, sticks in my mind). The circus is wonderfully visualised - I can see the clock, the black and white tents with their strings of lights, the "reveurs" dressed in black and white with their splash of red. The world of the Cirque des Reves is dreamlike and spellbinding.
However, the central narrative of the book is lacking. The competition is set up well, the mystery of the circus detailed throughout the book (though many questions raised about the circus are not answered by the end), but the characters are flat and the story underwritten in comparison to Morgenstern's incredible realisation of the world she has created. In the end it was the fate of the circus that mattered much more to me than the competition or the relationship between Marco and Celia.
Despite the lack of plot (once I realised there really wasn't going to be much of a plot) and the characters not feeling fully drawn, I did love this book. This is an incredibly visual and beautiful book, and worth reading for that alone. It is very unusual to find a book that succeeds so well in one area but fails in another, but this is one of those books. The hardback is a gorgeous book, with black-tipped pages and a stunning cover - worth seeking out if you can.
on 27 September 2014
I had been looking forward to reading this for aaages, so whether this factored in how disappointing I found it, I don’t know.
I had to nibble away at this book, chapter by chapter.
Every time I got into a scene I got whisked away somewhere else, I was never allowed to settle, after a while this got wearying, then boring.
The premise was intriguing, the cover was enticing, the plot was there, even the writing skills and descriptions were there, but because it dotted around so much I just found myself distracted by almost anything that wasn’t the story.
You never got to hang around any of the characters long enough to connect, large sections of the story could be condensed into, “ this was added to the circus, isn’t it pretty?”
I can describe this book in one four letter word, “nice”, the characters were intriguing, but not enough to save the book, the storyline was o.k, but it could have been spectacular.
And that’s the rub, it could have been spectacular, if it had been laid out in a more linear fashion, if the author stuck to one scene for more than a few pages at a time, if we’d gotten to know the characters under the skin as well as outfits they wore and the circus they worked in.
I liked how it ended, it didn’t need a big flashy finish, but the journey to get to the end felt like a mirage, all glitz and glamour and no substance.
Perhaps if I’d read it in another time and place maybe it would be something more than it was, but I read it here and now and it simply felt flat.
on 21 February 2013
I wanted to like this book, I really did. It has magic, fantasy, history and a love affair. What more does one need? Well, quite a lot, actually.
Other reviewers have commented that this was case more of 'style then substance' and I'd have to agree. In fact, having read an awful lot of A level coursework lately, it seems very much like the kind of novel a teenage girl with an unlimited word count would write.
Girl (putting down copy of Twilight and cinema tickets for Beautiful Creatures), "I know, I'll write a story about two magicians who fall in love, even tough they can't be together. I'll set it in Victorian Europe, but I won't bother doing any actual research on the period (apart from the dresses, I'll write lots about the dresses, and use words like 'flowing' and 'gown'.)In fact, I'll make them all sound quite modern and have really casual, 20th C attitudes and that. I won't even use the word 'vex' once. Not once! I'll do lots of detailed description and use some Good Vocabulary. I won't bother with boring stuff like character development or plot exposition and I'll leave lots of questions unanswered cos it'll be, like, mystical and stuff. It'll have a happy ending though."
I finished the book feeling quite cheated and not a little vexed myself. I wanted more from it; more sophistication, a more challenging read. This feels terribly derivitive of lots of other books I've read over the years and I'm struggling to see the hype. She admits herself that she was influenced by Susanna Clarke. TO me, the whole thing was a bit of candy floss, or that sodding caramel stuff Morgenstein kept banging on about.
It made me mourn Angela Carter even more, and sent me back to re-read Nights at the circus.
I was really looking forward to the novel but in the end, I found it memorable but disappointing. The world that is created is wonderful and vivid; the scene is set and the reader is well immersed. But the plot that starts so vibrantly in the opening chapters seems forgotten for much of the novel, and we skip from one scene-setting to the next - every component intricately designed, and described, so finely we can almost see and smell it, but then all the pretty toys and locations never seem to actually do anything. It is more of a painting than a novel. It makes a wonderful picture, but the story was disappointing. Probably one for renting from the library - it's worth reading for the visuals, at least.
on 24 January 2013
There are some great concepts in here, along with a few elements that could have made this a classic modern novel. However, it kind of peters out two thirds of the way through; never reaching any kind of apex, although all the indicators that it was coming were there. In a way it reminded me of listening to one of REM's lesser known numbers; the song keeps building up to that rock out moment which never arrives.
I also felt that a good few of the more dramatic moments were a bit heavy-handed and tended to come across in an almost soap opera like way; specifically, I found myself nearly rolling my eyes during some of the romantic subplot. Although, that might have just been my own cynical attitude coming through and not the writing.
All in all, The Night Circus is worth a read and I'm glad I picked it up. As I said before, some of the ideas are superb and there's enough going on to keep you interested, but it's by no means a classic.