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Erin Morgenstern - The Night CircusAuthor: Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus

Publisher: Vintage

Paperback: 490 pages

ISBN: 978-0-099-55479-0

Price: £7.99

Publication Date: 24/05/2012


Occasionally – oh, so very occasionally – one reads a book so magical and brilliant that you never want the reading experience to end, and where turning the last page and reading the last line is both a pleasurable and a painful moment. The Night Circus was just such a book for me.

Vivid and rich in its imagination, this was a novel that I devoured in one sitting, borne along by Morgenstern’s beautifully crafted writing style and incredibly visual, lush and evocative descriptions of the book’s world.

The novel, as the title would suggest, revolves around a circus – one which performs a specific role. For it is the location in which a rivalry that has played out over countless generations is being fought. The two rivals are magicians of undefined but certainly magically enhanced lifespans – one is a public performer, Hector Bowen, who goes by the stage name of Prospero the Enchanter; the second remains unnamed throughout the book. And their profound rivalry has been played out over countless generations by appointed pupils.

In The Night Circus, set in the late 19th century, Bowen elects his six-year-old daughter Celia, while his adversary chooses a nameless nine-year-old orphan who he names Marco Alisdair. From that moment forth the two children will  be bound into a lifelong duel, unwitting pawns in a game, the parameters of which are never fully explained to them; and for years, as they grow up and are taught by their ‘masters’, they do not know their adversaries.

The circus which will be the scene of their lifelong battle, is known both as the Night Circus and Le Cirque des Rêves, and is the brainchild of a theatrical producer named M Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre. But it is also the creation of Marco and Celia, both of who, over the years, become passionately involved in its performances, acts, and participants, as well as – inevitably – with each other.

Watching Celia and Marco grow into their roles – and watching them grow as characters and lovers – was a joy, but what sets this book apart is the panoply of characters that inhabit the world of the circus and the way in which the sights and sounds of the setting springs to life from the page. You can see the acrobats and illusionists, you smell and taste the popcorn and caramel, you will walk through the cloud maze, see the dancing kittens, spend time in the ice garden and possibly even make a wish at the wishing tree. As a reader you find yourself transported and immersed into Morgenstern’s fantastical world – one whose beauty and vibrancy is only enhanced when you resurface from it back into mundane and unmagical reality!

Many people are not fans of magical realism, but I – brought up on a diet of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood – am certainly not one of them. That being said, I can see that The Night Circus, which is very definitely magical realism, and with its meandering narrative and present tense prose might not be to the tastes of everyone. Indeed I, who am certainly not the biggest fan of the present tense in novels, found that – after the opening pages – I was so consumed by the story and the world that it ceased to bother me.

Ultimately, and much like Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus [which not only almost shares the same title, but is also an undoubted influence of Morgenstern], The Night Circus poses questions about the essential connection between fantasy and reality, and the human need for the former in order to deal with the latter. Darkly glittering and endlessly fascinating, with a heart-rending denouement, this was one of the best books that I have read in a very, very long time and one that I would thoroughly recommend.
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