“A breathtaking feat of imagination, a flight of fancy that pulls you in and wraps you up in its spell.” The Times
“Dazzling,” Independent on Sunday
As someone with a degree in creative writing, it is extremely hard for me to become immersed in and truly enjoy a book. Too often I’m caught up by poorly constructed sentences, plot holes, clichés, stereotypes, problematic behaviour, representation, and tropes, predictability; etc. (It’s honestly ruined the reading experience. 10/10 would not recommend.) The Night Circus, however, enraptured me from the first page.
With its unique structure of a second person narration surrounding you with the crackle of flames, the smell of popcorn, the taste of caramel apples, interwoven between two alternating storylines, it is so easy to get lost in the world that Morgenstern created.
The fantastical elements of the circus and the characters, of this world, were so organic, that, rather than fantasy, it almost read like magic realism. While I preferred the main story line of Celia and Marco, each of the characters were beautifully etched to life, along with every scene, every description, and so I didn’t get bored when the timeline shifted.
The sheer imagination and depth that went into this narrative is mind boggling. This is the kind of novel that both reminds me of why I want to be a writer, and why I probably never will be. I honestly can’t believe that it hasn’t received more critical acclaim.
Though I have seen the novel criticised for its slow pace, I would argue that the dreamlike trance it creates is part of it’s charm. The narrative spans decades, and it feels as if we are there for each one, as much a part of the circus as the characters we follow.
My only possible critique is that the book isn’t long enough and the ending dissatisfying, because I was not ready to let go when it finished. This would now have to be one of my favourite books of all time. I can’t wait for Morgenstern to write something else, and can only pray that it will be just as wonderful.
(Continue reading for a more in depth review, but beware spoilers.)
Normally, I find a fragmented structure very disruptive to my reading process. The lack of a continuous and fluid narrative restricts my ability to be absorbed by the story. This wasn’t the case in The Night Circus. I love the little snippets of Friedrick Thiessen’s articles about the circus, they really set the tone of the novel. I did find the sub-narrative of Bailey a little less interesting than the main plot of Celia and Marco, though I didn’t dislike it. All in all, I felt that the structure really set off the tone, and successfully propelled the plot. Morgenstern definitely knows what she is doing.
One word: seamless.
Though it was slow, I loved every minute of it. Following Marco and Celia as children, watching them learn magic, struggle with isolation, become a part of the circus, and fall in love was a beautiful progression. The whole premise of the plot, the rivalry between two old (immortal?) magicians who pit their students against each other was done in such a way that it wasn’t cliche at all. The concept of the arena, the way that the circus became the setting, the plot, and almost a character in itself was stunning.
Everything throughout was paced perfectly, just enough left shrouded in mystery in order to create suspense and a driving curiosity, except that I did feel that the ending was a bit rushed. But that was probably because it was a shift into urgency, immediacy, that the novel didn’t have before, as it wove the narrative. It didn’t interrupt my enjoyment, however.
I did think that making Bailey, essentially a random character, the ‘saviour’ and ‘fated’ to take over the circus was a little unbelievable, though again this was not enough to dull my love for this story. I do wish that Celia and Marco hadn’t had to sacrifice themselves in order to save the circus, living a half life, disconnected and yet intertwined with the world that they built for each other, though there is a tragically beautiful symmetry to it.
Though each of the main characters were etched out, I felt it was some more than others, and some minor characters like Alexander, Hector, Isobel, Tsukiko, and even the twins a little, were slightly one-dimensional, acting (for the most part) purely as plot devices. Isobel especially seemed to be nothing more but a love interest for Marco, and it was her jealousy of Marco’s feelings for Celia, that caused Isobel to break the charm she had cast and thus lead to the almost-downfall of the circus. Despite this, I still loved and was interested in each one, and only wish that more space could have been given to them, though I do understand that it was the nature of the structure, the span of time the novel covered, that didn’t allow for this entire character development.
I adored Celia. Despite her father’s influence and abuse, she remained a beautiful person and strong female character, which I believe had everything to do with who she is and not what she had suffered (as is the case with many strong female protagonists) true to herself and her beliefs. She was charming, modest, smart, and capable. She was definitely my favourite character.
Marco I also loved, though I found some of his behaviour problematic: like how he led Isobel on, and how he manipulated and damaged the mind of Chandresh. But I really felt for him as a lonely orphan, given an extraordinary ability, and forced into the competition just as Celia was. He was creative and charming, and his perspective was one of my favourites to read from.
Friedrick was a wonderful man, and I loved that he became the father that Celia never had and truly deserved, and I was devastated when he died.
Bailey’s storyline I found extremely relatable as someone who is also trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be and do with their life. I admired his choice to follow his dreams and passions (as I have done, though albeit with less success than Bailey), and I enjoyed seeing the circus through his eyes.
In summary, what else is there to say? I absolutely loved this book, would highly recommend it, and will probably read it again as soon as I have time. Don’t skip out on this one.
Disclaimer: This review is in no way written in malice or intending to offend, it is purely my opinion, and if it differs from yours that does not mean that your own opinion or enjoyment is invalid.