Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus
By Erin Morgenstern
Doubleday September 2011

Marco and Celia are illusionists, trained from childhood to manipulate their surroundings and the people they encounter. They have been prepared for a battle of magic that will continue until there is a winner. Their battle ground is the mysterious night circus, which appears without warning and features tents of clouds and ice, magicians and contortionists, and a white flame that never goes out.

This novel has been the belle of the literary ball for months. I get nervous about reading highly acclaimed books, but this one deserves all of the accolades. Ms. Morgenstern is a wonderful writer. She has incorporated mythology and fairy tale into a story that is truly compelling. We rush through the rainy streets of London and explore the amazing tents of the circus with Bailey, a young boy who is inexplicably drawn to the circus and a certain red-haired girl. The description and imagination that permeate each chapter are amazing. It’s not just about the magic of the circus, but about the magic of story.

"It is important,’ the man in the grey suit interrupts. ‘Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasure and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, you gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that.’ He takes another sip of his wine. ‘There are many kinds of magic, after all."

Some reviewers have commented that the characters seem undeveloped. But I think they don’t need to be extremely developed – this is a fairy tale. Think of the fairy tales of your childhood. We don’t need to know everything about them, because the important things are the atmosphere and the story.  

Thank God for writers like Erin Morgenstern. So many authors focus on what we already know –we fall in love and relationships break, people become heroes in the heat of the moment and others commit horrendous crimes. Some authors, though, give us new worlds to discover, like Narnia and Middle Earth and Hogwarts. They remind us about the power of imagination and wonder and dare us all to dream again. After all, the Night Circus is called Le Cirque de Reves – The Circus of Dreams. This was a book that I didn’t want to end. 

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