Ahh…where to begin? I have so many thoughts about this book.
“The circus arrives without warning.”
The Night Circus is a wonderful story about two magicians pitted against each other in a test of skills and ingenuity. Prospero, a famous magician, offers his daughter to this fateful competition believing that her natural abilities will make her a winner. But Mr. A.H—, a fellow magician, believes that anyone can be great at magic if they are dedicated to it, so he finds an orphan and trains him in the arcane arts.
No great detail is given about the competition, but as the story unfolds, we learn more about what is required. The stage for this competition? A circus, where magic can be displayed, unsuspected, in the open. The story is set in the real world, though a few years in the past. Magic is not a commonly accepted thing, but people delight in fancy tricks and deceptions at magic shows and circuses. The story is told from various points-of-view including the competitors’, Marco and Celia, and it jumps back and forth in time, depending on where the characters are (no, there’s no time travel).
We begin by being introduced to the characters. Then we see how the circus came about and how it ends.
(Spoilers! I can’t talk about this book without including major spoilers. I could barely write that summary without including them. So hop to the Overall section if you haven’t yet read the book or just want to skip my long-ass thoughts.)
I still don’t know where to begin… I’ve wanted to read this book for some time now so I decided to join in with Marines, a booktuber, when she announced that she would host a read-along for this book in February. I had the whole month to read the book, but I was so excited about it that I began immediately and was so hooked on the story that I completed it in 12 days. I took a short break from the book during that time because I’m a punk who doesn’t like to a good thing end.
I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the story when it began because I felt a bit confused at its beginning. It was as if Morgenstern gives us pieces of a puzzle and only later, a few chapters in, they start to click and we begin to see the story unfold. Once that click happened, I was hooked on the story. But what attracted me first was the writing. It flows well, descriptive when it needs to be and doesn’t get in the way of story. A few times I would pause my reading to reread a sentence or passage to marvel at a description or savor how a sentence makes me feel.
“Two green-clad figures in the center of a vibrant ballroom, so undeniably in love that the entire room flushes with heat.”
It’s a story about passion and wonder and magic and it’s magical. It entrances the reader and fiddles with her emotions. Once hooked on the story, I read it quickly in a state of wonder, awed by the images that formed in my mind of the characters and the circus, especially the circus. I felt like a spectator, like a disembodied floating consciousness that peeks in randomly on the characters. Because the circus attracted me the most, I loved reading from Bailey’s point-of-view. He gets to experience the circus in a way that the other characters are unable to. He enters as a spectator and through him we see the wonders the circus has to offer. Through him, we readers are made spectators of the circus.
I so wish it was real! I wish this was a circus I could attend. I would be a rêveur, dressed in black with a rose in the lapel of my blazer or with red earrings dotting my ears. The entire time I read, I kept wishing I could be in the story, even when I got scared that everything would fall apart, that the circus would crumble. If I visited, I would spend the majority of my time in the tent with the scented candles. I love smelling candles and often lose time in stores because I’d walk around smelling all the candles. So to visit a place where the scent of candles elicit a memory, experience, or image in my mind would be a wonderful. I’d also spend much of my time staring at the live statues throughout the circus and trying to puzzle out the clock at the entrance. I also love the maze where every room is a different place or climate. I’d lose myself in it.
Much as I love the story, or because I love the story, I didn’t pay much attention to all the details, like the dates at the beginning of the chapters. I read like a person obsessed with following the circus, and only the circus, and didn’t realize that the chapters hop back and forth in time until I got to the middle of the book. But even after then I didn’t pay attention to the dates; and I’m pretty sure I missed other details in my frenzied reading so this story is one I will definitely reread.
I guess this is a frame tale; but I didn’t think that until I got to the end. Mr. A.H—, the man in the grey suit, asks Widget for the story of how they came to be where they are and Widget obliged to fulfill a deal. Widget is so great a storyteller that he’s able to immerse his listeners in his stories and that’s what he did to us readers and probably to Mr. A.H— as well. He makes us experience what happened. I loved that.
At its base, it’s a love story but swathed in layers of dream, magic, and fantasy that almost make it unrecognizable for what it is. So though unique, it is also quite predictable. Of course Marco and Celia fall hopelessly in love with each other and are sometimes so enraptured with each other that they forget everyone else. It’s instant attraction between them and I love how it’s employed in the story. The buildup to it. The characters have such strong feelings for each other that I became convinced of their attraction and warped in their passion.
Actually, my favorite part in the whole book is when Marco and Celia truly meet for the first time. They were in Prague and it was raining. Celia took Marco’s umbrella by accident and didn’t realize until she saw that no part of her got wet in the deluge. Marco chased after her to retrieve his umbrella. They interact with each other for the first time. And it was intense. Nothing major happens; it’s just an exchange of umbrellas; but the buildup to it is what makes the scene intense. You can feel them falling for each other. It’s as if they are two sides of the story and not until then does the sides start to fit together.
And not only is the scene charged with attraction, but it’s also the moment when Celia is made aware of her competitor. I wondered then if that fueled their attraction as well, the fact that they are opposites and competitors. At this point in the story, which is close to the middle, I took a break. Obviously all this tension will cause things to break apart, I thought, and surely Marco or Celia will die because the story has a wary undertone that makes me think danger or death. So I punked out and stopped reading to savor that moment of Marco and Celia in the rain.
Being a love story, I expected Isobel’s actions would bring about the downfall of the protagonists and the end of the circus since it’s the actions of the spurned woman done out of jealousy that usually cause the good things in stories to end. And while that didn’t exactly happen, I was sort of right. She wasn’t spurned but she was ignored and her removing the circus’s safeguard, as well as the tension between Marco and Celia, caused cracks to appear in the foundation.
I’m not crazy about the characters. I was consumed with the circus and, other than the passion between Marco and Celia, I was only interested in how the characters’ actions affect the circus. However, I’m not a fan of Marco because of how he treated Isobel. He used her as a thing to occupy his attention when lonely and soon as his attention latches onto Celia, he forgets about Isobel and ignores her. It’s as if they didn’t have a relationship.
Another character I dislike is, of course, Prospero. He’s such a horrible father. And what happens to him? Does he become a phantom, a disembodied consciousness that haunts the circus? That along with the state of Marco and Celia’s state of existence at the end of the book adds another layer of mysticism to the circus. I so want to go there!!!
I also felt sorry for Chandresh. He has a superb mind and if he existed in my world today, I would have been a fan of his creations. But it was sad to watch his demise and cruel of all those involved in causing it. I wonder why how the circus began so affected him. Was he more connected to it than the others who contributed to its creation because he’s the one who thought of it? Or is it that he thinks he can never again create something as magnificent as the circus?
Of all the characters, Celia stood out the most to me because of how she functions in story. Celia is a natural, a born magician, and pure energy. She contains so much power that she must be constantly aware of her emotions and what she is doing. And when she joins the circus, it is her who provides the energy to keep it moving. She makes me think of nature because what she does is provide. But her position is a stressful one because she can never let herself be. She must always be in control and restricted, which I find interesting because such is often the case for very powerful women in stories. Two examples that come to mind are Ayesha in She by H. Rider Haggard who hides her beauty and power because they are too great for the world to behold, plus she must wait on her love to return, and Nynaeve in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series who is afraid of her power.
However, Celia is able to let go with Marco. He is her opposite and therefore not a source of raw power but a manipulator of it so he’s able to offset what Celia unleashes. I love all the scenes of them together.
“The entire room trembles as they come together.
And though there are a great many fragile objects contained within it, nothing breaks.”
I was done writing when I realized that I said nothing of the challenge; but it didn’t stand out to me. Sure, there is something to be said about the relationship between competitors and how motivating a challenge can be and whether or not innate ability or dedication and practice will win out in the end but really, I saw the challenge more as device for drawing the characters together. I mean, I don’t even know who wins though my money would be on Celia.
I have a couple more things to add but this reflection is pretty long so I’ll just wrap up here and add the rest in another post.
So yes, I enjoyed reading this book and I highly recommend it. Since drafting this reflection, I’ve also added it to my Favorites list. I love a story that’s written so well that I repeat its sentences and that’s so engrossing that I feel transported to whatever world it’s set in. I love it when a story makes me forget where I am and tune out what’s around me and is so descriptive that its images remain in my mind.
The Night Circus did all this and more. I think one of Morgenstern’s messages in the story is that we can all cast spells and a storyteller casts one on his readers/listeners whenever he relays a tale. That’s what The Night Circus did to me and I think it’s something everyone should experience.
“When she opens her eyes, they are standing on the quarterdeck of a ship in the middle of the ocean.
Only the ship is made of books, its sails thousands of overlapping pages, and the sea it floats upon is dark black ink.”
***I wonder what would happen if I sent an email to Bailey.***
Quotes from the book:
“This is not magic. This is the way the world is, only very few people take the time to stop and note it… They want to believe that magic is nothing but clever deception, because to think it real would keep them up at night, afraid of their own existence.”
“The finest pleasures are always the unexpected ones.”
“I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark.”
“You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.”
“The truest tales require time and familiarity to become what they are.”
“I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I relay it through printed words on crumpled newsprint, words that they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless of time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will. When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn’t it?”
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (bookidote.wordpress.com)
- Great review with beautiful illustrations. Definitely check it out!
- Review: The Night Circus (gsingh20.wordpress.com)
- For a different perspective on the story.
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (spidermonkeywrites.wordpress.com)
- For similar thoughts.