THE CIRCUS ARRIVES WITHOUT WARNING
NO ANNOUNCEMENTS PRECEDE IT…
IT IS SIMPLY THERE, WHEN YESTERDAY IT WAS NOT
Hold for a bold claim: This is easily the best book I’ve read this year. Easily. It’s a masterpiece.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I picked up The Night Circus. The blurb just says “The circus arrives without warning / No announcements precede it… / It is simply there, when yesterday it was not”. That’s it. Not knowing anything, having no expectations, builds the sense of mystery which contributes to the appeal of the book. If you think about it, the short blurb is actually a very, very clever device. You know absolutely nothing about the book, and yet you’re dying to read it…
That was just one of the many, many things I loved about The Night Circus. Where to begin?
Well, it’s exquisitely written. The language is beautiful, the descriptions are vivid and colourful, and the pace is immersive. It has that rare magical quality which draws you in. You remember the first time you read Harry Potter, and how desperately you wanted to be a wizard and visit Diagon Alley and go to Hogwarts? This book will do the same thing for you with a circus. The whole world had depth and colour and almost a smell; it lived and breathed. There’s really no other way to describe The Night Circus – it was just magical.
Curving pathways along the perimeter lead away from the courtyard, turning into unseen mysteries dotted with twinkling lights.
Beyond that, the imaginative constructs of the worldbuilding are simply breathtaking. The way fairytale and fantasy tropes and myth have been mixed into a familiar world, the modern touches which made it familiar and yet jarring, was genius. The world, and these different elements in combination, seemed to breathe the plot and the characters. It had an organic feel to it. The different layers of imagination and reality incredibly poignant, and give the book both its sanity and a dreamlike feel. And with so many references and layers of symbolism, it’s one of those stories you find yourself going back to time and time again, to try and unpick the meaning.
Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchang, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy… There are many kinds of magic, after all.
The narrative structure follows a central theme and location, but moves backwards and forwards through time and place, different sets, different countries, in a winding, circular fashion between the central players. It’s this close spiral, the twist and turns, which helps build a web of story and character, and generates foreshadowing events, a sense of mystery and suspense, which keeps you hooked.
I liked the characters immensely, and found myself deeply attached to their individual stories. I liked the way they developed and surprised you, even when you thought you had gotten to know them well. What I liked particularly was that, although you don’t realise it immediately, the whole cast of characters actually have a central role. The Night Circus has an over plot, which focuses on two protagonists, but the subplot and all the bit players weave in and out of it throughout the book. There is no one character that’s more important than the other, because they’re all interlinked and part of this web of relationships.
I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s was beautiful, moving, and immersive, and genuinely a real treat to read. Erin Morgenstern created a world I will be thinking about for a long time.
As the narrator says, when you leave the circus You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.