You want magic, I’ll give you some magic: You spend a week reading a super-magical book with a magical premise, filled with mysterious circumstances, characters in whooshing formal-ware, secret spells and magic rooms and midnight dinner parties complete with a contortionist. You love it, seep into it, can see every magical illusion, every magical backdrop.
Then, when it’s over, you can’t remember what was so big about it. There must be a word for why The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern went from a four point five-ish read to a three-ish post-read. Must be some sort of slight-of-brain.
But while you’re reading, whoa. It’s a lovely way to spend a few days.
The Night Circus is a curiosity of black, white, and grey tents, caramel-flavored air and labyrinths filled with illusionists, contortionists, and aerialists. It crops up without warning in towns around the world and is only open at night. Very few people involved are aware that this is all an elaborate venue for a competition between two illusionists who are the students of two other illusionists. Celia is under the tutelage of her father Prospero; Marco is being schooled by a mysterious man named A.H., who is always dressed in a grey suit. Celia is a natural talent who can reassemble broken things, including her own flesh; Marco is book smart. Eventually they are going to have to out-illusion each other. Of course, they kind of fall in love before they really understand all of the rules of the game.
Meanwhile, there is a great cast of circus people on the fray including twins born on the night of the first circus, the aforementioned contortionist, Marco’s special lady friend Isobel who sees more in her cards than she lets on. There is the inventor of the circus, whose health is failing, and sisters who are hard to tell apart. And then there are the fans, a collection of people who follow the circus from site to site and stand out by the bits of red affixed to their outfits. In between are short bursts of description about different sights and sounds that you, as a circus-goer, would see.
It’s very easy to get lost in this book, which almost has a YA feel to it with all its grandness and pageantry. It feels like a book that would bust imaginations wide open in a way that would stick with a young reader for a long time.
It is so subtly written that the actual competition, the reason for the season of the book, the thing that is carrying the characters forward is lost and lacks urgency or impact. It becomes more about the end of an era and the inevitable breakdown of the circus as a machine and not a battle ground.