Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I relay it through printed worlds on crumpled newsprint, words that they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless of time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will.
When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn’t it?”
-          From The Night Circus

The author Erin Morgenstern is a magician. Not the pulls-rabbits-out-of-hats- pick-a-card kind of magician, but a transcendent storyteller whose magic is captured on the pages of her new book, The Night Circus. From the first pages the reader is so immersed that she is surprised to look up and see the living room rather than the mysterious and enchanting world Morgenstern creates on the page. The reader pauses, unsure it’s healthy to be that completely immersed, then goes back to the book, expecting the pages to transform somehow. Convinced that there is a secret gateway to the tents, that when the sun sets she will be able to enter the world for real.
I was able to get my hands on an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) of this book through before it comes out this Tuesday. There’s a lot of buzz about this book, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read it before it hits the shelves officially.* Here’s a brief description of the book from Morgenstern’s website:
“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 brilliance of this book is not only in its characters and plot; it is also in the way the story is told. It is in the pacing and the manipulation of the reader throughout the book.
We experience the mystery of the circus as we learn its secrets, its history. The author addresses the reader directly in the opening scene, guiding us to experience firsthand the mysterious night circus appearing without announcement. Then we are transported back in time more than a hundred years, where we are introduced to several main characters and the competition. Now we are in the present again with our ticket in hand. We’re ready to enter the gates, and suddenly we are transported several decades after the competition begins where we meet a boy going to the circus for the first time. Now we are in the circus courtyard. We see the white flames of the bonfire that plays a central role in the magic. Then we are back at the “start” of the story again. We learn about the inception of the night circus and we meet more mysterious and talented characters. Our personal encounters at the circus mirror what we learn about the circus throughout the story.
Time is treated differently in The Night Circus. It is like the caramel on the apples that scent the courtyard, pulled and stretched and manipulated to fit its purpose. The central art piece is a unique clock that stands sentry at the entrance. Characters age differently and feel the futility of attempting to control time. The fortune teller says, “The most difficult thing to read is time, maybe because it changes so many things.” It is fitting that the story is not told in a linear timeline. The relevant pieces fit together, creating a puzzle and then a picture and then a piece of art.  
This captivating world gains flesh and texture though the themes weaved within the story. Throughout this journey we become part of a world where creativity is valued, embraced, and built upon. An unusual midnight dinner becomes a tradition, costumes and setting play a critical role for the patrons of the circus and also for the reader, and magic becomes collaboration, which then becomes the magic.
Cages are an interesting theme throughout the book. Whether one is caged by circumstances or choices or devotion, and what can be termed imprisonment to one can be deemed freedom to another.
Color is significant. The entire circus, from the flames of the fire to the dusted or painted ground, from the tents to the costumes to the art, everything is either black or white or gray. This non-chromatic work belies the complexity of the circus. The world we enter is neither black nor white, or shades of gray, it is whatever our imagination chooses. In the closing sections of the book, the author is seemingly talking directly to the reader as one character states, “Someone needs to tell those tales … 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, your gift … There are many kinds of magic, after all.”
I hope you read this book, if only to discover what form the magic takes in you.

*Note: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I just want you to read the book. It’s good. Really.

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