The Night Circus

120912_2017_GreatChrist6.jpgI bought this back in November and put it aside to be my post-Christmas read, a time when I am happy to indulge in a little magic realism, which this promised to be and most certainly was.

Since finishing it, I have come to see it more and more as a metaphor of the reading experience itself, Le Cirque des Rêves is a circus like no other, it opens at night and closes at dawn, full of enchantment and extra-sensory pleasures, where everything exists in black and white and whose followers, les rêveurs (dreamers) wear a splash of red to identify themselves.

Now, sitting in this cave of lightly perfumed silk, what had seemed constant and unquestionable feels as delicate as the steam floating over her tea. As fragile as an illusion.

night circusEach tent offers an extraordinary experience and like a good story, invites its readers inside to share the temporary illusion. It struck me the way the circus moves from city to city, from country to country with its fans following to be a little like the blogosphere itself, this place where we easily circumnavigate the globe, visiting blogs and reading/experiencing their content, like les rêveurs ourselves.

We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams around from place to place.

The Night Circus follows the lives of two young people, Celia and Marco. Marco is an orphan plucked from obscurity in 1874 by a somewhat slow aging illusionist to be trained as his protégé, a pawn in a seemingly never-ending game he continues to wage against Prospero the Enchanter, who chooses to nurture (in his own cruel way) a daughter he discovers he has when she arrives on his doorstep in 1873, with a suicide note pinned to her coat written by her mother. The two youngsters follow the different schools of thought of their masters, destined to meet and compete in a game where only one can be victorious and where the rules are deliberately obscure.

Along the way a catalogue of characters are drawn into this web of entanglement, along with the reader, never quite knowing exactly what drives and controls the outcomes, but mesmerised nonetheless within the fascination and charm of the circus and its characters.

BettleheimThis book prompted me to pull out an old copy of Bruno Bettelheim’s book The Uses of Enchantment – The Importance and Meaning of Fairy Tales; a child psychologist, he was a fan of the value of  fairy tales for young people, believing they provided a safe environment to liberate their emotions.

… how wandering in enchanted worlds, children develop their own sense of justice, fidelity, love and courage… not as lessons imposed, but as discovery, as experience, as an organic part of the experience of living.

Books like Erin Morgenstern’s  The Night Circus, invite us to return to that world as adults, discerning a slightly different but no less valuable meaning, as we have grown older and a little more cynical, able now to find deeper meaning in the analogies offered.

It is a tribute to the imagination, to a darkness that is not despairing and the light that always finds a way to reignite the flame.

37 thoughts on “The Night Circus

  1. Great review. I love the idea of the circus as a metaphor for reading. I think The Night Circus is probably the book I would revisit first out of all the wonderful ones I read this year, including The Snow Child.


    • Thank you so much for your comment. And The Snow Child is by far my outstanding read of 2012 and the reason I was a little in fear of reading this, but the two should not really be compared, just indulged in and enjoyed. Funny you mention it, because on the same visit to the bookshop I bought a copy of The Snow Child,which I had originally read on kindle, so I can reread that again too. Brilliant.

      I think The Night Circus would make an excellent reread too, so many layers and hidden meanings and references.


  2. Thanks for this lovely review. I was very tempted to read this after watching a few You Tube book reviews. I bought it and haven’t decided to pick it up yet. Actually I hate circuses and have since I was a child. The smell, the strangeness, the spooky mysteriousness of it all was too much for me I guess. However, I thought I wasn’t going to like Water For Elephants either and I enjoyed it. So, I will probably pick up The Night Circus too. Something else that’s pretty cool is that The Night Circus and Water for Elephants were both NaNoWriMo novels! Happy holidays!


  3. I’ve wavered about getting and reading this book, and now after your review I want to get it. I hope it is as beautiful and enchanting as your writing about it. Also love the connection with and quote from Bruno about children and fairy tales. So true!


    • I hesitated too, having read so many overwhelming reviews and so many enchanting, dazzling and breathtaking type overtures on the cover. It is escapism, but I gave it a 4 not a 5 because while the story enchants, I never quite got lost in the writing and didn’t mark too many passages. Like my last read, the author uses the third person narrative to keep the reader at a slight distance from the characters and the success of the book relies heavily on the imagination of the reader to create the circus, thus for some it may not live up to the hype. Best read without great expectations, it becomes what you make it.


  4. I think you have said it. “as we have grown older and a little more cynical” I am perhaps a tad more cynical that I couldn’t appreciate this book better. Glad you like it.


    • It’s funny about that comparison, it wasn’t while I was reading I thought that, it was afterwards, because the things I liked about the circus seemed similar to the anticipations of picking up a new and unknown book and then the fact that it moved from place to place and had followers (aptly named dreamers), well you know what’s that all about 🙂 Thanks for visiting while I was over at yours!


    • I think books that touch on the magical often fall like that, especially when they are in the mainstream. I think the narrative style has something to do with it as well, there’s a certain distance the reader must accept and an intrigue that’s never entirely divulged, but which I imagine would be better appreciated upon rereading.


  5. I’ve eyed this book countless times in bookshops but have rejected it every time. Your review has convinced me now – in fact I’m more than just convinced I’m now eager to get a read of it. I read The Snow Child on the back of a great review from you after rejecting it many times previously as “not my kind of book” – it was as fantastic as you had said it was! Your review is great – sometimes I think your writing about writing is better than the writing you write about – if you know what I mean!


    • Beware of the writing about writing 🙂 but with The Snow Child it is all true as you have discovered so I am happy to learn that we are on the same wavelength in that regard.

      Have you read Martin Booth’s The Industry of Souls? I’m rereading it, because it has been a favourite for so long, I’m wondering if I or my reading have changed since I last read it and whether it still holds that place. I hope so. Have a wonderful New Year and look forward to more gems from you in 2013.


  6. Magical realism is a fantastic genre, I am looking forward to getting my hands on this one. I always enjoy your passion. You could sell me advertising space on my own blog with your eloquence.


    • This comment made me laugh so much, I have to keep coming back here to read it for a good laugh. You’ve a great sense of humour, I hope many others are receiving the benefit of this New Years Eve. Look forward to more in 2013.


      • Well NYE was something else, I thought I was in a club for young people in Ibiza, it could well have been something of the sort, so I was the miserable one at the back with my ‘old mans drink’. I shall kick it up a gear this year humour wise, get ready for a video of me walking towards a concealed banana skin. What will happen next? Or maybe I will not try that one.


  7. So glad to read your thoughts on a book I found magical. The whole question of illusion — what we see, what we think we see — was handled so deftly as was the tension that kept the story moving along. Reading it on an iPad only added to its enchantment. 😉 How curious for me that, not long after finishing ‘The Night Circus,’ I stumbled on a ‘Nights at the Circus’ by Angela Carter. The book is rich and magical and feminist in an Angela Carter kind of way.


  8. Pingback: Book Review | ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern « Wordly Obsessions

  9. This is another book I bought ages ago. I often like to wait until the hype has died down before reading (unless I can pre-empt it that is, ha ha!) – so it’s probably time to read it now. Looking forward to it.


    • Exactly what I thought, I pre-empted it with The Snow Child and waited for it to die down with The Night Circus. We both know and appreciate which one earned every word of the hype.

      I look forward to reading your reading journey in 2013 🙂


  10. Pingback: The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan | Word by Word

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