Wednesday 23 November 2011

Devouring Books: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

There's been a whole lot of hype surrounding The Night Circus (I'm guessing you probably knew that) but I wasn't really that interested in reading it because, on the whole, I'm 1) not that interested in circuses (I know, I'm a MONSTER), and 2) not that into reading books until they get all old and unloved on my bookshelves and it's at least, like, 10 years since they've been released. BUT then, when I was looking for The Marriage Plot to fondle in a bookstore, I stumbled across The Night Circus and OH, the beauty of this book! It's got a really nice cover for one, but also, the edges of the pages are lined in black and it kind of makes the pages look like they're made of black velvet and who am I to turn down such an opulent book? I, of course didn't buy it because of all the space hardbacks take up, but I did almost immediately reserve it from my library (at the princely sum of 50p) and promptly forgot to read it until I couldn't renew it because someone else (of COURSE) wanted it, so... let's just say it was the priciest library book ever.

But! Of course it was worth it. I mean, aside from the fact that the writing isn't like amazing (it's good, just not the most wonderous way with words I've ever encountered) this book is magic! I mean, it's about magic, and it's magic, which is sort of the best combination of things in a book. I have to say though, I've read more books about circuses this year (two- I read Water for Elephants in August or something) than in my entire life, and I've never really thought about circuses being a genre before- what's that all about? Have I just missed this entire load of circus based books, or is it just a coincidence that I read both these books this year? Both of which, I might add, I only encountered really through blogging, so is there some kind of connection between blogging and circuses? Stop me if I'm going too mental for you...

Anyway, in terms of the circuses themselves, there's no comparison between the circus in Water for Elephants and Le Cirque Des Reves in The Night Circus. I mean, Water for Elephants has a load of animal abuse, whereas Le Cirque Des Reves is literally fuelled by magic, and I can't think of a location I've wanted to be real more than this circus. It's so mysterious and exciting, and so vivid in my head that I can feel what it's like, and the more vivid it is, the more I feel like I can go there, and the more frustrating it is that I can't! If forced to pick a favourite tent, I'd go with the Ice Garden (literally a tent in which everything is made of ice- it sounds stunning and so wonderful) although I did also appreciate The Pool of Tears, because it sounds so releasing- like you can take your grief and put it somewhere else, and just feel better about moving on in the world. I think we all need A Pool of Tears.

I've read a few reviews of The Night Circus that basically go "well, I LOVED the circus, but I didn't really like the whole back story with the magic and the game and the love and stuff", and I get what they're saying because none of the story with the characters really measures up to the descriptions of the amazement that the circus has to hold, BUT at the same time, I think that it's a plausible (well, you know, as plausible as a story about a magic circus can be...) explanation for why the way the circus is the way it is (in short, WONDEROUS) and it's kind of nice to think of the circus, not only as an enchanted circus, but also as a love letter between two people who are apart, but still very close. In a way though, I don't think it's as well played out as it could have been, but at the same time, I wouldn't have wanted Morgenstern to spend more time developing that story and then expend less effort describing the circus, because that would make me sad! But at the same time, I think it does need the back story to make the circus seem even more rare and wonderful, because a whole book that describes a circus? That would get old, fast.

Right near the end of the book, Morgenstern does something that makes me love her a millionfold, and that is describing the magic that exists within a simple story. And I know that in doing so she's massively manipulating me and all other avid readers (and I think this is a book that appeals to avid readers who really feel the magic of books) and through her most mysterious of all characters, she says this:
"'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 souchong; 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... There are many kinds of magic, after all.'"
I love this so much, because to me, this is what books are all about- these are the stories that we search for, the ones that we carry with us always and that change us, even in the subtlest ways, so that after reading them, we're never quite the same. And it really is a kind of magic, and it's the best kind of magic because we can all share in it, and it's real.

So is The Night Circus a book you'd carry in your soul? Maybe not. But you will probably always carry Le Cirque des Reves in your heart, and always always wish that you could go to it. And every time you see a circus, you might just want to stop at it, just in case...


  1. My friend just bought this one and I thought about slipping it in my purse when I was at her house yesterday. I really want to read this one!

  2. It's good! Not the most amazing book ever, but it's still really good!


    Your library charges you to reserve books? What's all this then?

    And basically, yeah, it's good, not great. I actually liked Water for Elephants a whole lot more, not that we should compare them, I guess. But I did, even though Jacob was super-emo all the time.

  4. THis was a book that called to me on so many levels (not the writing level, though, as you point out). I read this months and months ago (and it was hard for me to review) but I just picked it up again to re-read a few nights ago because I wanted to feel that magic again. I think, more than anything, that this is a book who rewards those readers who know that true magic lies more in the believing, not in the object of belief.

    It's not the *best* book I've read this year, but I think it just may be my favorite.

  5. @Rambo- SO PRETTY! And the black lined pages =awesomeness. I do have to pay to reserve library books- 50 whole p! And then I had to pay 30p more because of the overdueness. L. A. M. E. Did you really like Water for Elephants more though? Because I was all down with the depressed and forgotten old man bit, but the actual circus bits I was like STOP ABUSING THE ANIMALS, CIRCUSES ARE MEANT TO BE FUN! And I'd rather got to the Cirque des Reves because, you know, magic!

    @Crowe- oookay, way to write a comment that's better than my whole review! I can see why this could be your favourite book of the year (you know, magic circus!)- I'm not sure it's one of mine, but it has created the location I most want to visit, possibly ever.

  6. Great review! I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I agree that the characters were lacking in development to an extent, but she certainly made up for it in the atmosphere she created.

  7. Yes yes yes, atmosphere all the way! But I definitely didn't hate the characters either- I just generally liked it a lot!

  8. Great review. I've heard so many great things about this book (magical is the word most often used), and I really must check this one out soon. Like you, I like books that have aged a little, but I feel like I have to make an exception for this one. :)

  9. I have to repeat Alice's comment and you have to pay your library to reserve a book? Freals? I don't actually use libraries all that often so maybe this is normal practice but it is news to me.

    Anyway, that book sounds lovely! Like the physical book. Also the story although I'll prob wait awhile for it cos the hype is scaring me away from it right now.

  10. @Red (and a bit Alice too): ok, so the deal with the libraries is that in the county I live in, you can basically get books out with your library card in any of the libraries in the county (which must be, literally loads, cause there are like 11 boroughs in my county and I know in my borough alone there are at least 5 or 6 libraries and look at me getting all boring with the English geography and all) SO anyway, you can reserve a book to go to your chosen library, so you don't have to drive across the county to get it, and I think *that's* what they charge for- but I haven't reserved a book that's already at my local library yet, so I don't know that for sure. I feel like that explanation could have been way way shorter, but it's like 1am and I'm very sleepy!

    Also, the book? SO pretty! And also, read it! Maybe when it's come out in paperback and everyone's over it and you can just be like 'huh, that was quite nice actually!'

  11. I had a little trouble getting into the story at the beginning - it took somewhere between 30-50 pages and I was completely hooked. I am a really finicky reader, but I think this debut is a real masterpiece. I can hardly wait to see more from the author. This story is beautiful, magical, and fun. I love all of the characters; I even made a red scarf to wear in homage to the reveurs. Absolutely brilliant, beautiful, and refreshing to read.

  12. I was drawn into the Magic of this book by the easy flowing descriptive words. Erin Morgenstern created a journey that I was drawn into and never wanted it to end.
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