Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

May 4, 2013

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: 13 September, 2011
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Rating: 5/5 stars
Amazon | Goodreads
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 Rêves, 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, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
You know how there are people who write books or make movies about the lives of inspirational, larger-than-life people and they almost always say that they're scared that they haven't done justice to the person? Yeah, that's how I feel about writing this review, hence the long delay. Does that make sense? To feel that way about a book? Anyways, that's how I do; just thought I'd get it out there first.

Right. So...

I read this book while on a train journey from Chennai to Trichy (where an aunty from across the aisle didn't allow me to cross my legs so that I could balance the book properly, because 'It's disrespectful, haven't your parents taught you that?' Yeah. Right. *rolls eyes*) and then on a bus from Trichy to Kumbakonam (in which the lights were sucky, and I could hardly see what I was reading), and then on another bus from Kumbakonam, back to Chennai (at least I did, until they switched off the lights so that everyone could sleep). Usually while reading, and especially when I know I'm going to be writing a review, I like to make little notes - quotes, important stuff, characters, etc. And since I was traveling, I didn't have anything to write on (lesson learnt). I ended up tearing out a strip from that day's newspaper (papers are so FULL! I had a tough time finding a free spot), and making tiny notes on that.
Have a look ---> (it much longer than this, btw)

Ok, now less me talk and more book talk. 

The story of The Night Circus goes back a long way, much before where the book actually begins. Alexander and Hector are two magicians who have opposing views (Hector used to be Alexander's student). While Prospero believes magic is a matter of innate talent, Mr A H thinks it can be taught to anyone of reasonable intelligence. Every once in a while, to test whose methods are better, they pit two special students against each other for a duel. To the death.

There are no rules, and no information about how to win, and neither knows when it will start, just that it will, and when the time comes they will know. 

I recently read that Morgenstern has a degree in theater, and thought, "No wonder!" The book has a feel of drama, theatricality and plain fairy tale-ness to it, that has you mourning when you finally close it for the last time. The writing style is simply out of this world. Right from the prologue, the book has us hooked. Anticipation, tingly shivers, mystery, wonder - you feel it all. I mean that very name - Le Cirque des Rêves, The Circus of Dreams (aka The Night Circus), wakens wonder, excitement and a certain childish glee (especially with the introductory prologue) - its a circus of Dreams, so it must be made of the stuff of dreams, where anythings possible, right? 

And it is! The circus arrives without warning. No one knows when it comes and when it goes. One fine day, it's just there, and on another, it's gone. It's a traveling circus, a monochromatic world that opens only at night to its visitors, and the few who see the circus as home, and follow it - the rêveurs. In it are a host of wonders, which take you away from the reality of life, yet, they nevertheless have a sense of sinisterity around them. You may wander to your heart's content - chocolate mice, caramel popcorn, the contortionist, the dream maze, the pool of tears, the table of jars.... 

The Night Circus is the dueling ground for the contest between Celia and Marcus. Each performs when it is their turn, and create fantastical things that are a feast for the senses. The entire circus is tied to both of them, and their actions - as if it is a set of puppets controlled by them both. But the circus is made up of not only these two, but several other people - Bailey, Poppet and Widget, Chandresh, Herr Thiessen and many more, who are all invested in the circus, and help bring it all together.

The story goes back and forth in time, jumping many years forward/backward sometimes, so that might be a little confusing. It is told from the point of view of several characters, each of whom are an integral part of the story, which all comes to fore in the climax. I loved the characters in this world; they're so so real, and each becomes so dear to you , *spoiler* (highlight to see) that tears prick your eyes if one of them die. The author has created the characters (and even the story) in such a way that you feel you never quite know everything there is to know about them. There's something that is held back, but that's okay. It just lends more to the fairytaleness (I know its not a word) of the entire story.

The romance is special and unique, the kind that is no longer seen in books today. Do you remember the classics? How you would be caught up in the love and the emotion, all without any overt behaviour or use of explicit language? The love between Celia and Marco takes you back there. The amazing part is that they have so few direct exchanges, but each is so potent, it has you fanning yourself, and no, it doesnt feel exaggerated. 

At the end of the story (the epic journey), you dont want to leave. You want to go back to being the girl who did not know about Le Cirque des Rêves, so that you can experience everything all over again, for even if you re-read it, it wouldn't be the same as it was.

Read this book like you would eat chocolate. Bit by bit, allowing each bite to melt in your mouth, and savour the flavour of it, that sets your senses atingle. Read it like that. Dont rush through, it spoils the fun of it.

And I can tell you this with full conviction: This is not a book that you want to read while traveling. In fact, don't even take it out of the  house. You know that special nook that you have, where you can curl up in peace and read without interference? That's the place for this book.

Bottomline: It prose, wonderful, intricate prose - most probably at its best. Every scene is an elaborately crafted painting that forms a piece of the darkly fascinating masterpiece that is The Night Circus. It's magic!

P.S.: I know this review is sort of all over the place, so if you want to know more, there's a wonderful review over at Amazon by a certain Serena Witzke. Amazon also has an exclusive Q and A with the author here!
And for those of you who have finished the book, and want more of the addictive magic that the book has, head over to The Night Circus!


  1. Love your analogy of eating chocolate! I read and LOVED The Night Circus, especially the whole magical and fantasy setting for the black-and-white circus, and the mysterious competition between Celia and Marco!

    Alicia @ Summer Next Top Story

  2. I liked those bucketlists and things abt life u hav described in the side bar....a very nice blog u hav....and its always a pleasure to bump into another bookworm.

    PS- to get published is sumthng in my bucket list too. :/

  3. I had the same issue thinking my review wouldn't do the book justice either.
    However yours is great and not all over the place.
    I like the romance between Celia and Marco aswell. It is indeed special and unique. a classic depiction.

  4. I loved this book! The imagery was fantastic. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the different tents in the circus -- the whole book was very vivid and imaginative. Some of the characters were a little two-dimensional, but I don't feel like it harmed the overall book any.
    user recommended Zespri Kiwi fruit information

  5. The Night Circus is a gorgeously imagined fable poised in the high latitudes of Hans Christian Anderson and Oscar Wilde, with a few degrees toward Hesse’s Steppenwolf for dangerous spice. The tale is masterfully written and invites allegorical interpretations even as its leisurely but persistent suspense gives it compelling charm. An enchanting read.

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