Published: 2011 by Harvill Secker (Vintage Ed. 2012)
My copy: Borrowed from the Library where I work
Memorable quote: “They are enthusiasts. Devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls and they ache for it when it is absent.”
“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 begins this, the début novel from Erin Morgenstern. These intriguing opening lines set the tone perfectly for what is to come: capturing both the delightful serendipity of the Circus itself and the novel’s consistent use of the present tense, which isn’t always as quite so enjoyable. One of the attractions within the circus is The Labyrinth, a bizarre and wonderful maze. Visitors can enjoy getting comprehensively lost in its Escher-like corridors and then gradually pick their way through its startling cloudscapes back to reality. There is no point to it, of course, except for temporary escapism and the forging of some interesting memories, but aren’t those reasons enough? The same argument can be applied to the novel as a whole.
Morgenstern tells the story of a magical duel between two young practitioners. Celia and Marco are locked into a battle they do not understand by their feuding mentors, and the circus becomes the venue for their increasingly impressive psychic and telekinetic feats. The novel also introduces the other characters whose lives are shaped by this hazily defined competition, from the circus’ founders, through its performers and even its ardent followers. That’s really it. Although told in the present tense throughout, the timeline is not linear and I often found myself having to stop and check the date of a certain section again before it all made sense. I can understand why many reviews I’ve read of this novel have criticised its lack of structure and depth. I would agree with those complaints but at the same time this doesn’t make The Night Circus a bad read at all. What the novel lacks in coherence and characterisation it more than compensates in sheer imaginative display. The Circus is a wonderful conceit, and like the Rêveurs – the ardent disciples who follow the unpredictable journeys of the black and white tents across the globe – I was more than happy just to explore its weird and wonderful attractions. Indeed, I would argue that this work is perhaps more satisfying if you imagine it as a series of interlinked shorts – fleeting impressions and snapshots of strangeness – than as a fully fledged novel. The Night Circus is more wonderful than meaningful, but it’s absolutely a strange trip worth taking. My only regret is that I didn’t save this one to take on my for trip to Wave Gotik Treffen in May, it could be the perfect “dark” holiday read!