The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Published: 15th September 2011
Publisher: Harvill Secker
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 book itself is breathtaking, and it is clear how much effort has gone into making this book look special. The edges have been sprayed black, there's a red cloth bookmark attached and a beautiful overall finish that really adds to the sense of wonder that comes with this book.
The plot is as intriguing and mysterious as the circus it centres around, the lack of chronology in the story, far from confusing me, lead me to devour this book, knowing that eventually, somehow, these elements would all fit together.
The story follows Marco and Celia, two young children pitted unknowingly against each other by their older and clearly vaguely amoral guardians. A game is set up, a game to which the rules are unclear and the winner can take decades to determine. Their arena? Cirque des Rêves. But the plot focuses on more than just the battle between these two (which involves snow gardens, wishing trees and mazes) it looks at the dynamics of all the relationships that exist as a result of this game; and the effect that has on the wellbeing of the characters. Some characters flourish within the confines of the circus whilst others go decidedly downhill, struggling with the concept that their lives do not fully belong to them, that they are being manipulated in ways they could never have imaged. Poppet and Widget were by far my favourite characters, children of the Night Circus, they are gifted and not entirely what you would expect from normal children. I loved the way Bailey was fitted into the plot, it was subtle and very elegant.
But most elegant of all was the stunning writing. It's amazing that this is Morgenstern's first novel, the writing is haunting and fanciful; befitting of such an enigmatic circus. She handles the descriptions of the various circus tents and acts beautifully, it is never monotonous hearing about the circus, in fact, I wish she'd publish a whole separate book outlining each and every detail. She ties all the elements together with a grace that seems effortless.
Whilst written for an adult audience, this book has amazing crossover appeal and I would recommend it to any young adult reader. A beautiful debut, one of my favourites of the year. 5/5
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