Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Book Review: The Night Circus

"The circus arrives without warning.".... "Opens and nightfall, closes at dawn"... "No announcements precede it."

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgernstern is by far one of the best books I have ever read. And I've read a lot of books. 
In a theatre in 19th century New York a six year old girl is delivered to a very successful magician, Prospero The Enchanter. Her mother has just committed suicide, her name is Celia Bowen, and she is his daughter. They are more alike than in just demeanour though, as it would appear that Celia has the same gifts her father does. A innate talent for enchanting. Or, magic. Her father disguises his incredible talents behind tricks that are only slightly more impressive than the average magician's, but the audience does not see them for what they really are because they write them off as just more cleverly placed mirrors and mechanics. 
A short while after Celia begins living with her father they are visited by a man in a grey suit with a grey hat and a smart black cane. He is intelligent and polite, but unbeknownst to Celia this man and her father will ruin her life. 

They strike a bargain, much like they have been doing for years that they will each take on a student and train them in the arts of manipulation, then when they are ready they will be set head to head and they will have to exhibit their talents until a victor is proclaimed... Or so we are led to believe. The intricate rules of the game are far more cruel and twisted. 
The stage for this decades long game? A Circus, quietly orchestrated by the man in grey, Alexander, though you would not know that without being told as he seems to control it vicariously through his student, Marco, who in turn assists the "proprietor" of the circus, Chandresh Christophe Lefevre.  
Marco and Celia take turns creating wonder upon wonder for this fantastical monochrome circus, perfectly entitled Le Cirque Des Reves, The Circus of Dreams. Eventually they find each other, Celia having been clueless as to who her opponent was, and Marco having known who she was from he outset, but kept his distance. You have probably already figured it out but this book is a love story, and as is normally the way with these books the characters pitted against each other from the start usually end up entwined in one another's arms at some point or other. 

Now that you've got the basic idea (or I hope you have in any case) I'll get on with the review. 
It is an incredibly skilfully written and elegant book. The pace is very slow and relaxing, and it is written in such a way that you almost feel like you are reading the script for a play. Yet despite this slightly detached style it is by no means void of emotion. I found myself crying at several points, furious at others. I fell in love with the circus and rather felt myself as familiar with it as some of it's special patrons who call themselves the reveres, the dreamers, who follow the circus from country to country whenever they can. 

Celia and Marco are not the only ones who work magic though, Morgernstern has woven it into the text on the pages, the detailed descriptions and complex emotions that this book is rife with are so clear and strong. I can see The Ice Garden so clearly in my mind that I feel as if I've strolled through it, I can feel the clouds from The Cloud Maze envelope my body as a plummet through them and land lightly on the ground. 

I think one of the things I like most about this book is that it is a story from several different perspectives. It doesn't just pick one and stick with it, and I like very much that it's not completely Marco-Celia centric. You have the strong friendship between Herr Thiessen and Celia, Bailey's conflicting feelings about his future, Isabel's loyalty and her well hidden melancholic sense of duty, Poppet and Widget's whole childhood, Tsukiko's cameo parts where she acts almost like a narrator without actually narrating, the altered lives and love stories of those that created the circus. All these combine and interweave, overlapping and getting slightly jumbled up and yet you don't mind, because you can clearly differentiate one storyline from the other and then link them all together in your head in the right order. 

The different chapters are entitled like diary entries, with the year and the country/ies that the chapter takes place in along with it's title, yet they are not in the first person at all. 
That's another thing that I loved about it, how far the story takes us, it begins in the early to mid 1870's and ends in around 1903, which a prologue that takes us up to the present day. Not to mention how the circus travels to almost every corner of the globe. 

One thing that is certainly of note though, especially on a personal level, because I adore period dress and Victorian fashion were the descriptions of the clothes. Especially Celia's dresses, I am itching to make all of them though I'll probably have to just limit myself to just one. From deep forest greens to wine red and then all her monochrome performance dresses. I can feel the organza and the satin moving under my fingers. 

If you are a fan of magic and intrigue, circuses and carnivals, love stories, gorgeous clothing, period novels or are just looking for something to kill time with this book is perfect! I can easily recommend it to those of a lolita, gothic or steampunk  persuasion, I have a feeling you will love it. 
This book certainly deserves the title masterpiece, because it truly is just that. And not many books are. Do your life a favour, read it!

If you would like to see more to do with 'The Night Circus' check out this book trailer I discovered on Youtube. It really captures the feel of the book! 



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