Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Release Date: 13th September 2011
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 387
Buy The Book: Amazon

"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 RĂªves, 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..."

Erin Morgenstern's debut has been long-awaited and much-hyped. An enchanting, mysterious, playful and imaginative read, I found it enthralling, although I can see how some readers may feel that the slow-burning plot is merely a plot devoid of pace. The expressive prose used throughout the novel helps to create a sense of enchantment that I can only imagine must be akin to that felt by those who follow the circus, known as reveurs - the French word for 'dreamers'. Though the flowery, lyrical writing might not be to everyone's taste, it is an undeniably impressive piece of work. 

I'll start with my minor criticisms of this book: for the first few chapters, the flighty narrative, which jumps between continents and constantly flits forwards and backwards in time, is quite hard to grasp. This style of writing has its advantages; it gives the reader a sense of omnipresence that mirrors the relationship Celia and Marco have with the circus, but for the first quarter of the book, it has the detrimental effect of not allowing readers to really establish a connection with either Celia or Marco. The short chapters and persistent jumping from 1893 Munich to 1903 London to 1897 Paris is disorientating and doesn't allow much scope for character development until the real plot kicks in.

This happens when Celia and Marco finally meet. It is in this scene that the mysterious conversations and build-up all start to make sense, as it becomes clear that their relationship will form the core of the novel. Their love story is very delicately handled; not overwrought or overdone, but slow-burning and discreet (after a brief foray into 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James, I can appreciate the romance of a subtle and tender love story more than ever). 

Character-wise, the supporting cast are excellent, and I felt one of the strongest points of the book was the fact that every single 'minor' character had their role to play. Nobody is introduced into this story by accident, and everyone has their say in the touching climax. Poppet and Widge, twins born into the circus on the night of its inception, are particularly interesting, and their relationship with a seemingly ordinary boy from middle-America, Bailey, is one of my favourite sub-plots. 

The sub-plots, which at first seem distracting and incoherent, begin to merge towards the end of the novel and it is here that the reader can appreciate the master-craftsmanship that has gone into the story. There are no loose ends, and as the novel reaches its end, it becomes more apparent that every single word of the book is there on purpose; there is no filler, no buffers between plots to steady the pace of the story... the plot is well-thought out and wonderfully handled. 

Morgenstern's debut is enchanting, imaginative and just a little bit dark. The most fascinating character is the circus itself, and the appeal of this novel definitely lies more in the journey than in the climax.

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