The Night Circus

Published: 2011
Author: Erin Morgenstern


A enchanting world which will draw you into its magic

The longlist for this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction was announced a few days ago. The twenty books include a number of novels from first time authors as well as more experienced writers with some well known names in the running. Looking through the list I was embarrassed to find out that I had only read one of the titles (although looking at last year’s longlist the same is also true for then). I can’t really judge which book deserves to win but I can say with some confidence that it will take a remarkable piece of literature to better debut author Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.

Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) is a mysterious traveling circus which performs only from the hours of sunset to sunrise and arrives in towns across the world with no fanfare and no prior notice. Circus acts including magicians and fortune-tellers each inhabit their own tent, there is no central big top and patrons simply move from tent to tent as they desire. Integral to the story of Le Cirque des Rêves is that of Celia and Marco, two pawns in a bet between magicians Prospero and Mr A.H., concerning the very nature of magic and whether it can be taught or is a natural gift. Almost inevitably Celia and Marco fall in love threatening not only their own safety but the future of The Night Circus.

The Night Circus is a strange book, it’s difficult to classify into any particular genre. Fantasy perhaps – or maybe fairytale? There are elements of a love story and even the odd thriller set-piece but in reality this novel defies all attempts to fit into any recognisable category. The story doesn’t help us to decide where this book belongs, the plot is the weakest part of the novel. There isn’t much of a cohesive narrative, we jump back and forward in time and there’s a seemingly pointless sub-plot about a young boy, Bailey, and his relationship with the circus over a number of years. The characters on the whole aren’t very well developed and some of the plot developments (such as the romance between Celia and Marco) are blindingly obvious from the very beginning.

Despite these pretty serious flaws The Night Circus is one of the best books I have read in a long time. The imagery is striking and the world that Morgenstern creates is truly breath-taking. The circus itself is vividly described from the stark black and white tents which have no hint of colour to the dazzling exhibits of the circus such as a maze with moving alcoves and a magical ice garden. The book is full of beautiful and evocative descriptions which made me desperately want to find Le Cirque des Rêves and visit all of the wonderful tents, taste the delicious popcorn and be part of that magical setting, if only for one night.

I asked a number of people on Twitter recently what the best thing about reading was and almost unanimously came the answer that books can transport you to another world. A good read will remove you from the humdrum of everyday life and that’s exactly why The Night Circus is such a great book.

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  1. I have this one waiting for me on my shelves. Just need to carve out some time to read it.

    • I think you’ll enjoy it. I got totally swept along by the magical imagery before I worked out there was not much plot, and by then I was completely bought into the book.

  2. I’m so jealous. I want this book with the UK cover so badly. The US cover is awful by comparison.

    • I read the book on Kindle and there’s a little bit of me that regrets that as the cover is so beautiful that it would look gorgeous on the bookshelf. I’ll have to go have a look at the US cover :-)

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