Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Log: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

So many other people wrote so little about The Night Circus when it was first published, many moons ago, that I'm a little uncertain when it comes to saying much myself. However, the desire of inflicting my opinions upon the world at large seems to have overcome the uncertainty and here we are.

Many descriptions of The Night Circus have been along the lines of "It's otherwordly and wonderful and you have to read it yourself to understand." I would guess that a large chunk of that is because the book is written in present tense. And parts of it are even in second person. It's weird. It definitely gives an immersive effect, but it did feel a bit gimmicky at times. The confusion of time is definitely part of the circus itself, though. That confusion is enhanced by the three interwoven but distinct plot threads which progress at different speeds. It's quite possible to follow, but it does mess with your sense of time - which is the nature of le cirque des reves.

Morgenstern does, in my opinion, a fantastic job of conveying atmosphere. Le cirque des reves is, as the name suggests, whimsical and wondrous. It's as if a dream you didn't want to wake up from has somehow been committed to paper. Despite that, I don't think the novel is about its setting in the way that something like Gulliver's Travels is. The circus is a medium through which various characters can express themselves - particularly Celia Bowen. Celia has a love interest, but the novel isn't a romance. Likewise, she has a life's work, but if the novel were about the circus in itself, it would need a quite different frame. We meet little Miss Bowen very early in the novel and by the end - well, you wouldn't want me to ruin that for you.

The novel follows Celia Bowen's life in a bildungsroman fashion that I tend to associate with Dickens, although it's certainly been used by any number of authors. Celia's growth and the development of her interactions with the world - although it almost seems more apt to say the world's interactions with Celia - form the substance of the book. When one of those interactions is le cirque des reves, that's fairly substantial.

I very much enjoyed The Night Circus. The characters were vivid (or strikingly not so) and fascinating, I found the plot compelling and the themes of atmosphere and illusion thought-provoking as well as beautiful. This is definitely a book I would recommend.

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