I read most of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus curled up on the divan under a fleecy blanket, nursing a steaming mug of milk tea. I was halfway through the book, work was cancelled because of the storm wreaking havoc through the metro, and the power was out, hence I finally got some much-needed quality reading time — my favorite kind! :p
Le Cirque Des Reves, literally “The Circus of Dreams” is put up by the flamboyant Chandresh Christophe Lefevre and his Midnight Dinner circle: the elegant Mme Padva, the charming Burgess sisters, the diffident Mr. Barris, and the mysterious Mr. A. H.
Chandresh wants a circus like no one has ever seen, and indeed that is what the circus becomes. Open only at night-time, Le Cirque du Reve comes and goes without notice, opens only at night-time, and offers a myriad of attractions in labyrinthine tents. And everything, from the exhibits to the performers’ costumes, down to the smallest refreshment served on the circus grounds — heck, even the dirt on the circus grounds! — is in black and white.
The circus is populated by a fascinating bunch: flame-haired twins Widget and Poppet, born on the first night of the circus; the contortionist Tsukiko, emblazoned in tattoos; Isobel, who reads tarot cards but cannot make sense of them; and the reveurs — lovers of the circus, like the clockmaker Herr Friedrick Thiessen, and Bailey, a young boy who falls in love with the circus on his first visit.
In the center of this hubbub are two young magicians, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, whom, without their knowledge, have been pitted against each other since they were children. The circus a stage for their battle, the illusions actual magic made by Celia and Marco. But when the two fall in love, they end up facing a bigger battle, to fight to be together against the deepest bonds of magic.
Erin Morgenstern writes beautifully, bringing the circus to life in between the pages, leaving the reader with many a fanciful dream about going to Le Cirque des Reves and getting lost in its many nooks and crannies. I think I would want to find Marco’s ship made of books, afloat on a sea of ink, or the Drawing Room, with blank walls you can draw and write on. I also want to try out the chocolate mice, maybe dunk them in a cup of mulled cider marbled with black and white swirls (it sounds heavenly!). Ooh, and go to the Cloud Maze and tumble through the clouds!
And yet, as fantastic as the author makes the circus, she deftly weaves in a thread of tension, dark and sinister, and pulled tighter and tighter until the circus starts to unravel.
Surprisingly, the romance was my favorite part. There’s precious little of it, the parts where Celia and Marco are together. But even in not so many words, the romance burns beneath the surface, and for me that amplified the intensity of the emotions.
“Do you remember all your audiences?” Marco asks.
“Not all of them,” Celia says. “But I remember the people who look at me the way you do.”
“What way might that be?”
“As though they cannot decide if they are afraid of me or they want to kiss me.”
“I am not afraid of you,” Marco says.
They stare at each other in silence for a while, the candles flickering around them.
They’re magical together, and I love how the connection between them translates very well on the page, as if you can touch the words and feel the electricity on your fingertips.
And while I don’t think this book is for everyone, it hits all the right notes for me — the turn-of-the century setting, magic and fantasy, coming of age, and a darn good love story. I have not been this deeply engrossed in a novel in a while, which is why it took me so long to write this review — I felt like I wouldn’t be able to do it justice.
Towards the end of the novel, Erin Morgenstern writes,
“When the battles are fought and won and lost, when pirates find their treasures and dragons eat their 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. The tale will move them and drive them, and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. My favorite books are not the ones that have won awards or critical acclaim, or put forth groundbreaking ideas — they’re stories that remain with me long after I’ve finished reading them, and make me want to read them again and again.
Stories are magic.
The Night Circus, trade paperback, 5/5 stars
The Night Circus is available at National Book Store.