I have been meaning to read this book for years. I’d see it on the shelf at Dymocks, hold it, sniff it, and sometimes carry it around the store before I’d put it back down and walk away. Eventually, The Night Circus wasn’t new anymore and so was shifted to another section of the book store and I forgot about it.
That is, until about a month ago when I saw it on the boyfriend’s bookshelf. I may have squealed, just a little. I think he lent it to me just to shut me up.
I’m not going to lie, there were two things that piqued my interest about The Night Circus when I first laid eyes on it. The first was the blurb:
The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it.
It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
And the second was the author’s surname: Morgenstern. And why? Because of Valentine Morgenstern. Of the Shadowhunter universe. Yes, I am that much of a fangirl. But after reading the first few pages, The Night Circus had me under a spell of its own making.
The circus in this book, Le Cirque des Rêves, is both a setting and a character. Characters grow and change and develop (in a manner of speaking) within the boundaries of the circus and the circus itself goes through a process that one could almost describe as character development. We meet the circus when it is nothing more than a glimmer in its father’s (Chandresh Christophe Lefévre) eye. We see it born, see it through infancy, adolescence, and what seems to be some kind of midlife crisis. The circus takes on a life of its own. Le Cirque des Rêves may be one of the most vivid characters I have ever read, even if the whole thing exists in shades of black and white.
The Night Circus is fantasy without truly being fantasy. Well, in my opinion anyway. In this universe, there is magic. There are ghosts, of a kind, and magicians and real fortune tellers. But these are all tied to the circus. Even though some of these elements of magic existed before Le Cirque des Rêves came to be, the magic become so intrinsic to what the circus is, that we almost forget those origins. As such, I feel like I cannot truly describe this book as fantasy, when the fantastic elements are all tied to the one setting. (Even if that setting makes up 90% of the narrative). Instead, I would have to call this book “magical”. Which I think is a much more appropriate label anyway.
I tend to talk about structure a lot, I know, but it is actually something that is very hard to pull off. And the structure in The Night Circus is incredibly ambitious. Much like the eponymous circus itself. The story starts in second person, and then shifts to third person omniscient. There are a lot of perspectives in this book. I was going to list the main ones, but as I started doing it in my head, the list got too long. Instead, I’ll say that there are three main stories, each separated by a significant period of time: Celia and Marco’s, Bailey’s, and “yours”. Each of these stories twines with the others until it becomes a tapestry. However, because of the magical nature of the story, the three story lines coalesce at the end. It was a nice touch, as it adds to the idea that Le Cirque des Rêves is eternal.
And something else that amplifies that feeling? The fact that the first line of the story is repeated at the very end of the story:
The circus arrives without warning.
I love circular stories, when they’re done right. And Morgenstern has nailed it.
Finally, I want to talk about the central relationship. Because although there are three stories, there is only one main relationship, and that is between Celia and Marco. I think everyone saw where that relationship was going right from the beginning. But Morgenstern took that predictability and turned it on its head. Morgenstern found a fantastic way to resolve the inevitable problems that these two were going to face. It’s hard to breathe new life into any trope, especially romantic tropes, but Morgenstern found a way. And it is glorious.
I could rhapsodise about this book forever. So, instead, I’ll just end with this: if you like stories with a little magic and mystery, with romance and family, with impeccable storytelling, then this is the book for you.