It’s been a while since regular posting, I know, and there is a reason for that. We’ve all been super busy lately, with school starting up and the majority of us being students at various stages in our educations. Regular posting will resume shortly, however.
And now for the review.
I received Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus through Goodreads First Reads. While it had been out for a while, a giveaway was being hosted on the site.
I was first attracted by the cover. It was black and white and gray with red accents and stars and Victoriana and swirls and a little cartoon circus, and I wanted it in my bookshelf. (And oh, did the physical copy deliver on this. The front cover is a page with a circular window to reveal the circus illustration; you open to the secondary cover-thing, and the circus is cupped in a woman’s hand. The symbolism and appropriateness is glorious.)
But enough about the cover. I’d seen a friend’s five-star review and figured, “This must be pretty damn good,” because when she likes something enough to give it five stars, I usually feel similarly blown away. I read the summary and wasn’t especially wowed, but apparently I was intrigued enough by the fact that there’s romance. To be frank, I’m not sure I really took any of it in except for that. If I did, I forgot it almost completely, and thank God for that. And I’m glad for that, because the back cover summary gives too much away and tells you too much about this book. Which is why I’m not putting it here. The magic of this book is in how it is Le Cirque des Rêves. It carries you through the mystery and the magic the way the circus carries the characters. You only need to know that this book is about magic, love, a game, and a circus. And not to mention, the back cover summary is misleading. I’m almost positive the author didn’t get to approve of it before it became official, because the second paragraph gives the entirely wrong impression.
This book is not a book I can summarize the events of because it is a journey, and I don’t think it would’ve been quite so magical a read if I knew the details of what would happen later in the book. I can tell you that it plays out over the course of the characters’ lives. We meet Celia at the age of six; Marco, fourteen. We meet both characters when they meet their instructors.
The first half of the book could be categorized as build-up to the real story, but it never felt that way. All of it needs to occur and be known for the second half to happen and work. You need to see how both Celia and Marco learn to use their magic, how their instructors make them live their lives to reach the venue where the competition is to be played out. You need to see how the other characters enter the story and how they develop with the circus.
The story also alternates POV. To say this story is primarily about Celia and Marco is not a lie; it’s just not entirely accurate. Some chapters are uniquely focused on characters such as Chandresh or one of the Burgess sisters. There are switches in time when we read from Bailey’s perspective. These are the parts that are sometimes most intriguing. Bailey appears to be an unrelated character for most of the book. Some readers might not like this, but for me, during the majority of the story, where Bailey seemed unrelated, it was about seeing the circus from the viewpoint of a visitor, not a member. It was the midpoint between Friedrick’s POV and the gorgeous second person passages.
That brings me to those passages, where Morgenstern switches to second person. I loved these parts. They pulled me into the magic in a way third person just can’t. That kind of summarizes all the switches in POV this book contains; we see the circus from the viewpoint of the two lovers, Celia and Marco, who maintain and create what makes the circus the Circus of Dreams; we see it from the point of view of the people who created it, Lainie and Tara and, most frequently, Chandresh; we see it from outsiders such as Friedrick Thiessen and Bailey, who offer the wonder those familiar with the circus cannot. Then, we see it in a way that directly involves us, and to me, that adds a whole new layer of magic.
A very key part of this book is Morgenstern’s writing. If it had been any less beautiful, this book would not have worked. It’s written very much like a book of the period it is set in, or as close to it as a book palatable to the modern generation can be written. Her descriptions are really what draw you in and let you experience the circus. You get to know all the things that make this place special, and you feel connected to it, which makes the ending and the ultimate goal all the more impactful.
Beyond all of this, though, was my favorite aspect of the book: The circus itself. I loved reading of the things Celia and Marco created at first for the game and ultimately for each other. Not only did they serve as a unique deviance from love letters and gifts in what was essentially a long distance relationship, they were just wonderful to read about in how different and otherworldly they were. I mentioned earlier that this book is the circus for the reader; reading of these impossible things is like going to the circus. Combined with Morgenstern’s skill for writing, this gives you the experience felt by the outsider characters as they marvel at the circus during their visits.
Now that I’ve addressed the good, I must be fair and address what didn’t quite gel with me, although for me, they were not enough to significantly detract from the book’s overall quality.
One issue I had upon completion was this question: Why didn’t they just keep playing the game? There wasn’t any sort of deadline on that game as far as I could tell. It seemed as though, if they only kept playing, there wouldn’t be the need for one of them to die. The best explanation I can come up with for this is that there’s the emotional time constraint. Celia is clearly growing weary of it; she can’t keep competing. It takes a lot of energy to compete against somebody. However, this still doesn’t answer why they didn’t just simply stop thinking of it as a competition. There wasn’t exactly a referee to enforce the rules, only the instructors and the former player who I will not name, who toward the end does intervene to try to end it. Anyway, I do wish Morgenstern might’ve addressed this in the end. She very easily could’ve worked in some solution. Perhaps this should put my rating down a star, but I loved this book too dearly to do so.
There was also an issue with attaching to characters. I loved many of the characters—I truly did. Chandresh is one character I empathized a lot with, and Bailey was by far my favorite of them all. Friedrick and his rêveurs and the way his writings are incorporated made him relatable, too. Most all of the characters were wonderful, but Celia didn’t quite come through strong enough for me. Marco did, although a reviewer I respect felt differently. Celia, though, felt a little too distant. This wasn’t enough to hurt the book too much, but she just didn’t shine all that brightly despite being a main character. I didn’t love her like I loved all the other characters.
These being the only two flaws I noted, I should probably also note how polarized the readership of this book will be. This is definitely a love-it-or-hate-it type of book. The style is something some will love while others hate. The issues are issues some will be able to forgive in favor of all that makes it beautiful and others simply won’t be able to get past. You’ll definitely want to read samples to get a sense of how you’ll like this book, maybe even reviews of differing ratings. I suggest taking the recommendation of a reviewer with similar tastes as you. If you do decide to read it, keep in mind these things:
1) Forget the back cover summary.
2) Don’t go in with expectations. Just read.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and therefore gave it five stars, earning it the Magical Ceramic Coffee Cup of love.
In Whimsical, Non-Related News: I found wonderful things related to this book. While they didn’t affect my rating, I figure any book that inspires wonderful food things should be commended on the fact. The first two are sweets sold in the circus. The third is just something I thought was really pretty.
Chocolate Mice: http://notyourmommascookie.com/2012/06/chocolate-mice/
Chocolate Caramel Popcorn: http://notyourmommascookie.com/2012/06/chocolate-caramel-popcorn/
Beautiful Night Circus Cookies: http://notyourmommascookie.com/2012/06/the-night-circus-cookies/