“The circus arrives without warning.”
So begins The Night Circus, a gripping tale with a window into a magical circus, set in the early 20th century. The reader is thrown straightaway into a story unlike any on the market today. A world-renowned magician and an old associate decide to bring up a competition long dead, where they each choose a student, train him or her, and set them against each other. The loser is the one first driven mad by the building pressure to win; the winner is the survivor.
The venue for this competition is this night circus, called Le Cirque des Reves, or the Circus of Dreams. From the outside, this dream circus reveals nothing out of the ordinary; on the contrary, it much resembles any normal circus. On the inside, however, all bets are off. The food is the best and freshest; the pathways and tents seemingly go on forever; the tents themselves hold truly magical exhibits, from a wishing tree lit with real wishes, an illusionist who can turn handkerchiefs into doves, a tent whose hundreds of bottles hold hundreds of memories, and a cloud tent, where one can climb, float, and fall, all without fear of injury.
What no one counted on, however, were the two competitors falling in love. If the entire first half of the book was about the circus itself, introducing characters, situations, scenes, the second half brings these now familiar aspects together into a delightful cacophony of what happens when love interrupts our plans.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book; not only is it brilliantly written, each character personalized and described so they came alive in my head, but it also made me feel – I wanted to visit this circus of dreams, to walk the pathways, see myself reflected in the hall of mirrors and let go of my past regrets and sadness at the Pool of Tears. Erin Morgenstern masterfully concocted a world both realistic and magical, half fairy tale, half reality. The Night Circus is Morgenstern’s first book; if this is what we can expect from her, I look forward to the many other pieces of literary art that are certain to come.