Thursday, September 13, 2012

The circus arrives without warning

I really liked this book.

I don't think there's anything I can say about Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus that hasn't already been said. And said better. I didn't read this when it first came out and everyone was raving. It was described as YA lit and a romance and fantasy and other things that don't normally catch my interest. But then so many bloggers I like had good things to say that I was curious. When I saw the new paperback version on sale I decided to give it a try. I'm so happy I did.

The book is mostly about atmosphere. It's about the Le Cirque des Reves, a circus that is only open at night, that shows up with no warning, and is far beyond what any other circus is. There are acrobats and contortionists and magicians and fortune tellers and lion tamers and everything you'd expect at a circus, but to the nth degree. And more. And all in blacks and whites and shades of grey.

There are characters of course. It's not all set pieces. There are the old rivals Mr. A. H and Hector Bowen/Prospero the Enchanter. There are their students, Marco and Celia, bound together in a competition. There are the twins Poppet and Widget born in the circus. Bailey and Herr Thiessen, regular patrons and more of the circus. The characters are there to give the story a plot, but the circus is the star and the parts of the book that are the best.

There is a love story between Marco and Celia but it's a love story that is tinged in sadness. They are in a competition they don't really understand that they were forced into as children. Tinged with sadness is a good way to describe the entire story. Even with the spectacle and the beauty and the magic there's a feeling of melancholy throughout.

This isn't the best book I've read. I can't say it made me think deep thoughts. But it was a book I didn't want to put down. It's a story I wanted to immerse myself in. The characters may not be that well drawn but I didn't really want them to be too complex, too realistic. I wanted the book to stay simple and fantastic.

According to Wikipedia the book is compared to Harry Potter and Twilight but I don't think either of those is accurate. Especially Twilight, although I'll assume that the comparison there is only to get people's attention and not because there are any similarities other than they both consist of words printed on paper. Other than the presence of magic, Harry Potter and The Night Circus don't have much in common either. Not only the time period but the feeling. For all its magic,  Harry Potter is set in a relatively realistic world. The Night Circus isn't. If anything the book is closer to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Probably because of the setting and the time period, but it's more than that. It's the tone. To set the story too firmly in the real world would take away some of its power.

Like I said before, I really liked this book. I wish there was more to read about the circus, even if the story with the characters was done and told.

Oh and as for the romance, to quote Book Riot quoting Leslie Knope
"It's the most romantic story ever. It makes The Notebook look like Saw V."

Title quote from pages 3 and 508

Morgenstern, Erin. The Night Circus. Anchor Books, 2011