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.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
So, this is a tough one. I still can’t make up my mind about this book. I’m hovering between 3 and 4 stars. I don’t want to give away any spoilers because it really would spoil the effect of the book for those that want to read it, so I’ll give you a potted overview.
The story is about a magical competition between Celia and Marco, instigated by her father and his mentor when they were children. Celia knows very little about the competition, not even who her opponent is, while Marco knows much more. And the location for the contest is Le Cirque des Reves. They do battle by creating more and more elaborate experiences (tents) within the circus, neither knowing how the contest will be won, but knowing there can be only one winner. Of course, there is the inevitable love story that ensues, though for a large part of the book the two protagonists are kept apart.
What was wonderful about this book was Morgenstern’s beautiful, often elaborate prose and intricate descriptions. The tents, and what happened within them, really came to life with her detail and atmosphere. You felt as though you were really there and these magical experiences could actually be real because of the dexterity of the author. One of my favourite things in the circus was Herr Theissen’s clock. What an extraordinary imagination Morgenstern has.
However, I also feel as though this was the book’s weakest point as well. Because the circus was described in every detail, from the clothes to the food at the Midnight Dinners and the smells of the circus, because the story was told from so many points of view and places in time, I found it, not difficult, but awkward to really develop any attachments to the characters. I wasn’t swept away with the story, but rather with the imagery.
Perhaps this was the author’s intent. The book actually felt like someone’s dream, one of those rare dreams that we all occasionally have that feels so real that when we wake up we feel disappointed because it didn’t actually happen. The Night Circus was less of a story and more of an experience.
If Morgenstern could shape her characters as satisfyingly as she shapes the world she puts them in, I think she could be a prodigious talent. For a debut novel I was very impressed and I will certainly be interested to see what else she writes. It’s not going to be one of my favourite books but all told, I think the book deserves 4 stars for the sheer commitment and bravery Morgenstern displays in not leaving any descriptive stone unturned. Not many books are written in this fashion and I admire her for trying something unusual. How successfully she achieves it is up to you.