A great deal of the basis of this novel revolves around the inescapability of fate and the passage of time. This book almost seemed to come to me in its own time, making the experience of procuring it that much more enjoyable. I’d seen a great deal of chatter on the book blogs I frequent about this particular novel, and picked it up a half dozen times before woefully replacing it on the stacks. The most recent missed attempt was in a Hudson Booksellers in Newark International Airport. I somehow talked myself out of purchasing the hardcover, reminding myself of the two books in my carry-on and additional 2 in our checked luggage.
(Note: Of the 4 books? I read only one during the duration of our trip. Book-lover FAIL.)
Plot Summary: 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 per formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Ok, so after dramatically parting from this book in the airport terminal in Newark, I flew across the ocean off in search of romantic adventures on the Emerald Isle. (Yeah, that really happened. Crazy, right?) The book wasn’t finished with me, though. As we explored the small town of Clifden on our second day in the country (the first being lost to travel, jetlag and more jetlag), we happened upon the adorable Clifden Bookseller. Of course I had to go in, my goal being to acquire a copy of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone,” purely for kicks.
Once I had the book in my hot little hand, I couldn’t resist perusing the charming shop just a little bit longer, when a striking cover design stood out to me from the fiction section. I wouldn’t have recognized it at first, as it’s vastly different from the US Hardcover that I’m accustomed to seeing, but as my brain caught up to my eyes I realized I was staring at the UK paperback of “The Night Circus.” (I also came across “The Lady of the Rivers,” by Phillipa Gregory, which wouldn’t release until a week later back in the States.) The novelty of this fact convinced me that this book and I were meant for each other, and I left the shop both richer and poorer than I had entered.
This book, like a circus itself, is a handful of lovely stories. We are lead both through the circus, and through the tales slowly, and given time to savor the characters and ideas as they are presented. That’s not to say that this book moves slowly- there’s a feeling of building suspense the further you get into the story that doesn’t let up until the final pages.
The concept is relatively basic- two young magicians are bound to each other in a duel by their teachers/parents before they are old enough to understand. They are given very little detail as to how the challenge will play out, only that they must be at the top of their skills and that the object is to win.
As time passes, you see the students come into their skills through magical tutelage of varying intensity, until finally their paths intersect at an audition for Le Cirque de Rêves, an enormous venture being staged by a London showman who wants something unlike the world has ever seen. At first Celia is unaware of Marco, but once he views her skill there is no question in his mind who his opponent is to be. Their venue: the circus itself, in ways they cannot begin to imagine.
This book is told in such a way as to appeal to all the senses. You smell the caramel floating in the air, feel the warmth of the bonfire and see the world in shades of black, white and grey. You become a rêveur (French for “dreamer”) with the rest of the characters, waiting excitedly to see each new addition to the maze of circus tents, and to meet each of the cast of eclectic characters. The clockmaker, the contortionist, the tarot reader and the twins all have a part to play in the infinitely entwined dynamic of the circus and the story itself, until you are unable to separate any of them from each other, and from yourself.
It’s not often that I’ll find a book that I’m SO excited about that I can’t wait to pass it on to another reader. Firstly, I’m stingy with my books. Too many have gone missing after injudicious lending or have returned to me in a sorry state for me to lightly part with my favorites. However, I wasn’t terribly far into the story before I popped into the next cubicle and set the book down in front of my coworker.
“Read this chapter. Just this one. You have to,” I commanded. She did, and her eyes immediately brightened with identical excitement to mine.
“Yes, I need to read that,” she agreed.
It is a fantastic tale that is both sweetly romantic and heartbreaking at the same time. For a debut novel, Erin Morgenstern has set herself a ridiculously high standard to try and top. I, for one, greatly look forward to her attempts.