Thursday, September 13, 2012

'The Night Circus' is a mesmerizing diversion

Reviewed: "THE NIGHT CIRCUS" by Erin Morgenstern (Anchor Books, a division of Random House Inc., 2011, $15)

When a friend gives a book with an enthusiastic recommendation, I take it with a grain of salt. What I like isn't necessarily what you like, and vice versa. So, despite the fact that my friends Nancy and her daughter Mandy have amazing taste in books, I wasn't sold on Erin Morgenstern's national bestseller THE NIGHT CIRCUS when they kindly loaned it to me.

But, now that I'm finished with the book, I can tell you they were absolutely right about it. Morgenstern's debut is amazing. So now I'm highly recommending it to you.

I'm not sure how to describe this story. I don't think I've ever read anything like THE NIGHT CIRCUS, and I certainly haven't been so engrossed in a novel for quite a while. I didn't know what to make of it at first. The scope and the number of characters is quite large. And much is purposefully left a mystery.

The book is about a traveling circus that circulates to major cities worldwide beginning in the late 1800s. It's also about a fight-to-the-death challenge made between a hand-picked and unwitting boy and girl when they are each about 6 years old. And it's about the star-crossed romance between them (that develops when they're a bit older), and how that affects those involved with Le Cirque des Reves.

The story is also about magic and enchantment. The reader is asked to believe that certain people have inherent or learned powers that can grow over time. Powers that can extend to an experience - a circus that is fantastical, and contains acts such as an illusionist who can change the color of her hair or gown in a blink or turn a coat in to a flight-capable raven; a tent in which everything is made of ice; the usual circus/carnival acrobatic and animal acts - but here no one ever falls or gets hurt; a contortionist who can fold herself into a small box and make herself disappear; and a tent that contains only a multitude of small jars that contain the smells and memories of very specific events - a hot day at the beach, the spices of Christmas morning, and also those that evoke sad occasions.

The circus has a definite brand: Everything is black and white and extremely glamorous, as you might expect a night circus to be. Morganstern's descriptive imagery puts you right there in the venue. The performers' costumes are made by a former prima ballerina with an inherent sense of style. There's tons drama and constant change - to be expected by a circus that arrives to each new place during the night without warning and leaves without warning.

The dark, powerful mysterious nature of the circus lends itself to HBO's "Carnivale" or the motion picture "The Prestige." There's obviously more going on here than is first revealed.

I'll say this book is not for everyone. Other reviews show me that readers either love it or hate it. I have seen no middle ground between 1-2 stars and 4-5 on Goodreads. I give it 5 stars.

It took me about 50 pages to get into the book, which seemed overly descriptive at first. I was at times confused about the sheer number of characters. But, once I began to focus on the circus, the atmosphere Morgensern cleverly evoked, and on the "death fighters/lovers" Marco and Celia, I savored every chapter for each new revelation.However, the ending for me wrapped up too quickly and jarringly - after being entranced with the circus for nearly 400 pages I expected more in the end. But I was sad when it was over. This novel is very much worth a read.

Read the first 14 pages of the novel, and witness the book's inventive design, on Morgenstern's website.

Book summary (from the publisher):

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 RĂªves, 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 both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

About the author (from Morgenstern's

I’m a Cancerian with a Leo Moon and Taurus rising and yes, I know what all of that means.

I studied theatre and studio art at Smith College.

I grew up in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Steve Carrell now owns the store where I bought penny candy and blue raspberry Slush Puppies as a child. This both amuses and disturbs me.

I was reading Stephen King at age 12 and J.K. Rowling at age 21. This likely speaks volumes about my literary development.

I currently live in Boston, Massachusetts, though I’m in the market for a new city. We shall see.

I write. Fantastical, fairy tale-esque things with magic and mystery and tea.

I started querying literary agents in June of 2009. After working with interested agents and revising my manuscript (twice) I signed with my agent in May of 2010. Then I spent a summer in the Revisionland Hotel, and in September of 2010, THE NIGHT CIRCUS sold to Doubleday. The sound you are hearing is my head spinning, still.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS was released in September 2011 in hardcover, and it’s now available in paperback as well. You can probably get it wherever books are sold, as it is sometimes difficult to buy books in places that don’t sell them.

My fiction tends to be location-driven. Nocturnal circuses, subterranean libraries, townhouses dressed up as pirate ships. I got tired of living in Alice’s Wonderland and decided to build some of my own.

I write 10-sentence flash fiction pieces inspired by photographs that are posted to the blog every Friday. They are fondly known as flax-golden tales.

I paint, though writing is taking priority at the moment. Mostly acrylic-based mixed-media abstract illustration. Which means painting with acrylic paint and adding anything I can get to stick, and it’d be abstract if it were not so illustrative and illustration were it not so abstract. I paint Wonderland-y things and teacups and pigs with wings.

I spent large amounts of the last few years painting a black & white tarot deck. I finished painting it in early 2010. You can purchase a beautiful limited edition deck of the Major Arcana here. (Well, you could. It’s sold out now, but they might turn up on tarot trading sites.)

The complete deck can be viewed at I am in the process of finding a publisher for the full 78-card version. It’s slow going. I promise it will be published eventually. Really. Someday. Today is not that day. 

I read a lot. I drink absurd amounts of red wine and even more absurd amounts of tea.

I collect jewelry made from old keys.


Mandy said...

So happy you loved it as much as me!

Tracie said...

Sounds like I'll have to put it on my list!

Michelle Karas said...

Thank you, as always, for the suggestion Mandy!

And Tracie, I think you'll really like it.

Tracie said...

Michelle -- I finished this yesterday. LOVED IT!! I didn't remember much of your review, so I had forgotten about the "fight to the death" part, and was a little surprised by that (although I basically figured it out!)

I completely agree with your take on the ending. It came together too quickly. I couldn't decide if I didn't like the ending or if I was just sad it was over. Perhaps a little of both!

Michelle Karas said...

I totally agree. It was a little of both for me, too, Tracie!

Wait till you see Personal Injury Lawyers KRW said...

The Night Circus is not for those who like fast paced, who like things to happen right away. It's for dreamers, those who like to feast on every word, those who like to be carried away.