Friday, November 25, 2011

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Pages: 376
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Published: September 15th, 2011
IBSN: 9781846555244

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

The Night Circus -- entirely black and white, comprised of too many tents to visit in one night, each holding seemingly impossible acts -- appears without notice, and opens only at night. But behind the beautiful and mysterious facade of the circus is a competition with an inevitably tragic result and a fate irrevocably intertwined with that of each and everyone at the circus.

The Night Circus was a gorgeous and magical debut -- one part The Daughter Of Smoke And Bone, one part Water For Elephants, and the rest product of Morgenstern's brilliant imagination.

The perspective was from an omniscient third-person, my favourite when executed well, which this of course was. The focus slipped from character to character often, but never confusingly, and even to an entirely objective point of view. Close to the circus, it's possible to forget how extraordinary and innocuous felt to outsiders. Each part began with a section in the second-person view of a circus-goer that reminded us of the obliviousness of the general public to the dramatic and all-consuming issue the characters privy of the competition.

The characters were enigmas, the premise mysterious. Perspectives would switch after giving us the bare minimum amount of information to appease us, keeping us on the outside. The Night Circus didn't throw us into the middle of the situation as much as it showed us the story as one would see from the outside. Like circus-goers ourselves, watching curiously but rarely fully knowing. Omissions never felt awkward in attempt to develop this feel, but completely natural.

Morgenstern's writing style was elegant and lovely, and the work that went into crafting the prose was clear. Each perfectly chosen and positioned word felt laboured over, and the effort was not wasted. Stopping to reread and admire phrases was involuntary, though not a burden. The story and drama encouraged me forward, to find and take comfort in the denouement, but the writing slowed me, though I wouldn't complain about that. The Night Circus, took me several wonderful days to finish.

The imagery was beautiful, particularly the descriptions of the Reveurs (as depicted on this edition cover) in their unofficial uniform -- all black, with a stark flash of vivid red. The language evoked clear images of the events and the elegance and dreaminess of the settings of the novel.

The story has this incredible emotional pull: the defeated and almost melancholic mood of the two leads' perspectives was almost impossible not to share. The characters, all of them, even and especially the antagonists, were fleshed out even through minimal exposure, and feeling for them was an inconvenient (I can't say moping for these fictional people helped me any prepare for my exams)(though the allure of a book that makes you genuinely feel things is undeniable) inevitability.

The chemistry between Celia and Marco was so skilfully portrayed through limited glimpses at their time together. Morgenstern struck a balance between attractions heavily based on an intense, ethereal bond and a relationship that felt natural. Their romance was fast, but not in a contrived way, and it was strong enough to realistically motivate the characters without tedious and lengthy scenes together.

The Night Circus concluded with a bittersweet compromise; a very clever twist that held onto the unpredictability and promised tragedy of the plot while not having all of the characters' struggles end up being in vain. Emotions were running high by the suspenseful finish, and by the bottom of the final page, I was left in a sober sort of mood, wondering a) why I put myself through such emotional stories and do this to myself, and b) how I will possibly ever be able to go back to my usual line-up of light, young books.

The Night Circus, it was clear from the beginning, would become a favourite of mine by the end, and it did not fail me. It's a historical fantasy YA-adult crossover that everyone, regardless of your preferred genre, I'm sure would find an element to enjoy. Erin Morgenstern's debut displays a talent well worth keeping an eye on.