Review: 'The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern

'The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.'

And so starts Erin Morgenstern's 'The Night Circus', an epic tale of  a dark and magical travelling circus, and all the dark and magical people therein. The coming of Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams), the Night Circus of the title, is a stylish and mystical event for the town it pitches up in during the night, enchanting nocturnal visitors with an elaborate series of spectacles and dreamy, game-like challenges and acts, before disappearing just as quickly just a few days later. Within this, Celia, the beautiful illusionist, whose illusions are more than a little bit real, and Marco, assistant to the circus' proprietor and more than a little magical himself, are locked within a predestined contest of magic, wits and eventual loss and sadness.

So, to my opinion: this book is wonderful. I probably shouldn't reveal this online, but I bought it for a friend for Christmas, and, having brought it home, opened the first page to just see what the writing was like before I wrapped it, and then pulled my head out of it three days later. It's a long time since I stumbled upon a true page-turner, that seems to hold my heart in its pages until I'm done, but this really was one of those rare books. I love it when things live up to their hype. It's just wonderful.

The things I loved particularly were its compelling dream-like structure, which darts around through time, occasionally catching you out, and its lush descriptions of the circus and the people therein, which seemed extra special for everything being themed in black and white, a la the cover. It says in the back cover that Erin Morgenstern is a writer and an artist, which  is evident in her detailed envisioning of such a rich and detailed world, where colour, shapes and ambience are used to great effect. She uses scent a lot as well, and my general feeling looking at the book now, is that its pages glow in my memory with scent and sensory stimulus, and beautiful images lit by candlelight. In addition to that, the book itself is freakin' beautiful - the copy I have has black-edged paper, a gorgeous typeface and gothically elegant black, white and red graphical illustrations and paper edging throughout. I also love a bookmark ribbon, and the one in this is a lovely reveur-scarf-reminiscent red.

There was the odd thing that didn't perhaps blossom as it might have done - I was a little let down by the ending, which I am loathe to give away, and I thought a little of the writing about the kisses and conversations between Celia and Marco was a bit YA and silly. It weakened a little towards the end - Bailey wasn't the strongest character, I thought - but there were a huge number of loose ends to tie up, and explanations to give, so I guess that's not wholly surprising. Taken as a whole, it still feels like the book that might be taken to the heart of many a reader if it hits them at the right moment in their lives.

To finish, one aspect of it that I loved was how Morgenstern's love of reading, books and writing shines through the characters with a vivid smile that, in a way, endorses the act of reading whilst you're reading it. All of the characters' leisure pursuit of choice is reading, and few do not pop up with a book at some point; Celia, the illusionist, uses books instead of furniture as she cannot fit both in her room. These are the most interesting people and all they want to do is read - that sentiment, well-executed as it is, would be enough to recommend this book to me.

This quote comes from one of the final pages of the book, and seems to glow with Morgenstern's love of reading and of her art. I look forward to her next book immensely.

'"But some people can be enlightened," Widget says.
"Indeed, such things can be taught. It is easier with minds that are younger than these. There are tricks, of course. None of this rabbits-in-hats nonsense, but ways of making the universe more accessible. Very, very few people take the time to learn them nowadays, unfortunately, and even fewer have natural access. You and your sister do, as an unforeseen effect of the opening of your circus. What is it you do with that talent? What purpose does it serve?"
Widget considers this before he answers. Beyond the confines of the circus there seems to be little place for such things, though perhaps that is part of the man's point. "I tell stories," he says. It is the most truthful answer he has.
"You tell stories?" the man asks, the piquing of his interest almost palpable.
"Stories, tales, bardic chronicles," Widget says. "Whatever you choose to call them. The things we were discussing earlier that are more complicated than they used to be. I take pieces of the past that I see and I combine them into narratives. It's not that important, and this isn't why I'm here -"
"It is important," the man in the grey suit interrupts. "Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragon 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. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that." He takes another sip of wine. "There are many kinds of magic, after all."

 Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Year of Publication: 2011
Format: Hardback, 387 pages, and I bought it (for someone else!)


  1. I've been curious about this book. Glad to read it's worth the hype. By the way, the English cover is better than the US one. Figures.

  2. How come? Are UK one normally better than US? I do really like the cover of the edition I have - I did look on Amazon at the various covers I could insert, and wasn't so keen on the tiny-tent-in-hand image, which I guess must be the American one. I'll pay more attention in future :)

    And yep, worth the hype, and worth a good old' read. By the way, Opera Boy sounds good...!

  3. Aw! I love the US cover! And I think both are gorgeous but I think the US has the edge this time if only because it doesn't have that blurb up top. I also think the tent in hand is kind of appropriate, given how much the fate of the circus rests in their hands, so to speak :) (though I don't know if the designer really thought of it in those terms or not).

    Anyway, on to your review! Almost everyone I've spoken to feels the same way about the ending! including me, haha. It was a bit anti-climactic, almost as though she'd painted herself into a corner and didn't know how to get out. And I agree about Bailey -- I actually didn't care about his storyline for most of the book and kept wondering when this was all going to become relevant. But at the same time, the book, as a whole, is pretty amazing... one of these situations where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts I think. I'm really glad you liked it :D

  4. Definitely - greater than the sum of its parts is a really good approximation of this book.

    The ostentatious blurb on the top of our edition is a bit naff, but I think I prefer the people with scarfs to circus in hand... :D

  5. OK, I am mid-way through and loving it, thank goodness for some complete and absorbing escapsim, Lyndsay you may have to recommend my next book as well! Wonder if I'll appreciate book covers as much when I get my kindle?

  6. Wonderful! Happy to recommend books for you forevermore!

    That'll be interesting, won't it? I suppose there'll be no tactile element to it, which might take some of the aesthetic enjoyment away. You'll have to let me know :)

  7. Thanks for the Review...........I'm definitely going to check this out....

  8. Hi Christopher! Yep, I would totally recommend it. It was so escapist, yet clever and sensual, and very atmospheric.

    Thanks for stopping by!


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