Erin Morgenstern has created something lovely here. A little loose, but then most first books are, and life itself is a pretty loose thing, so I’m hard pressed to dress it down too much for not being some tightly scripted wunderkind. The characters are rather numerous and while their strands are tied together and don’t come off as feeling superfluous, I feel the sheer number of players on the stage muddied things in a way that wasn’t entirely necessary. That being said the book was pleasant. It is one of the those books whose prose as so light and airy that they sweep you from one place to another and you can just sort of lose yourself.
There was however one greater problem. The problem lies in the circus itself. The beauty and majesty behind Cirque du Reveur is something we are just sort of expected to be enamored with. We get glimpses, little displays of magic, illusion, and all other such wonderful mystic things, but when it comes to circus we are left in the outside. We know the feelings of those who enter, indeed we are given numerous 2nd person perspectives on how impressed with are with the entire enterprise, but we are not shown any of the acts. I understand it would be difficult to craft such scenes, to show the levels of craft and showmanship and polish and god knows what else in order probably manage the unimpeachable beauty of this thing they call The Night Circus.
But you must. If you are going to base an entire novel in a circus like this one you simply must show us what it is all about. Overviews, descriptions of reactions and amusement, these things are light, fluttery things. Morgenstern has style for it, that much was made more than clear, but she never seemed to find the strength to show us the beast she had created, instead we are simply told that it is there, and my what a wonderful place it is. However, the plot moves and while it sticks the ending, the world we are shown never fails to hold a sense of enchantment.
If you read this book and loved it, you should take a chance on Susanna Clarke’s Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, it effectively takes this book, opens up the gates of its premise, and rumbles across the 19th century. It’s a big book, so take a towel and a beverage, maybe a snack if you’re feeling peckish.
“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. 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… there are many kinds of magic, after all.” ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus