I’ve been meaning to read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for a while now. Everything I’d heard about the book made it sound like something I would really enjoy. (I even said as much here.) I love fantasy, mysteries, competition, love stories, and unusual narratives. Plus, that cover. How could I not want to read this book? And yet, the more people told me how great it is, the more I put off reading it. I blame a combination of stubbornness and fear of impossible expectations. When I did finally sit down to read it (thank you, book club), it only took a few chapters before I was completely and utterly hooked. From there, it was only a matter of finding enough time in the day to devour the rest.The book opens with two magical men (one a stage magician, the other something less defined) making a wager. The stage magician proposes a competition between his daughter and the other man’s yet-t0-be-named player. It’s not entirely clear what the competition entails, but this is something the men had done many times before. The majority of the story takes places a decade later within the mysterious Cirque de Rêves—a black and white circus open only at night, which changes and grows as it travels around the world without warning. Underneath everything runs the magical competition. Even after two weeks’ consideration, I still can’t pick a favorite circus exhibit (most of which are created in response to something happening in the lives of the competing magicians). I thought the Pool of Tears was an especially beautiful concept, but I wouldn’t mind spending an evening exploring the Labyrinth either.
The narrative hops back and forth between a few years and places as the story unfolds. I rather enjoy creative narrative structure, but it took me a while to appreciate what was going on here. By the end it became apparent that I was reading vignettes that loosely tied together to give mostly the whole picture (as opposed to a story that hops back and forth between two time frames without any real gaps, ala Kate Morton). Sometimes we get more than one point of view of the same event, while sometimes details and chunks of time are left out altogether. It bothered me a little bit at first, but once I got comfortable with the style and immersed into the plot, I forgot to be concerned.
The Night Circus made a great book club pick because there was so much to talk about. (When someone says this, I assume the book is controversial in some way. This was not that. It was just so imaginative and lovely that we had so many choices of things to discuss.) We had a debate about who we’d like to see direct a film version of the movie, and there were so many evocative descriptions of food in the book that our host had plenty of choices for treats. (Isn’t that what makes a great book club pick anyway? I say yes.)
I still can’t believe the beauty and imagination Morgenstern used to create this story. I am so glad I finally read it. Now to convince my husband and children to dress in Cirque de Rêves-themed Halloween costumes with me. (A girl can dream.)