‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern
It’s Halloween-week, which means it’s time for some magic, some spooky, and some tangentially-Halloweeny reads!
I’ve been trying to think of how best to write about Erin Morgenstern’s excellent debut novel, The Night Circus, for a few days now. It’s one of those books that can be categorized, enjoyed, and, upon finishing it, loved, but not one that can be accurately described.
Most of the publicity material for the book has mentioned the dread words “Harry Potter for adults.” Increasingly, I seems to be just stuck on any book that somehow involves magic and isn’t targeted at tweens. Really, neither The Night Circus itself nor Ms. Morgenstern’s writing style evokes anything of the world of Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling. While there is magic in both, that is about where the similarity ends.
In an attempt to tell you what the book is about, know that The Night Circus, as will surprise no one, is mainly about a circus that takes place only at night. But that’s really just the setting. (A beautifully described and evoked one, but “just” the setting all the same.) The book’s main plot is about a centuries-old competition between two rival magicians with two different views on how to teach magic. But it’s also a love story. And it’s also a coming-of-age tale.
Sounds a bit unoriginal, eh? Well, after days of thinking about how to tell you about this book that I adored, I’ve come to the conclusion that any way I could describe the book would come off flat. (As evidenced by the above paragraph.)
The Night Circus is far better and more well-crafted as a whole unit than any of its parts seem to be. The plot, when described in plain language, sounds a little threadbare and hackneyed. The characters similarly pale when discussed outside the book itself and even the writing cannot be called exquisite. But somehow, these things come together and form a book far superior than you would expect.
Reading The Night Circus was a unique and thoroughly pleasant transportation into Ms. Morgenstern’s beautifully-imagined world of enchantment and love in the late nineteenth century. The writing is simple and evocative in its very naturalness. The book reads slowly, but steadily, until you find yourself, hours later, calmly plugging along and utterly unable to put it down.
The book belongs in a category of novels with Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It is a creative and richly furnished alternate reality of our world, complete with its own history, darkness, magic, and whimsy.
Ms. Morgenstern’s book is also quite beautiful in an understated, modest sort of way. The book never screams for your attention, but, once you begin, you will find yourself quite unable to ignore its quiet genius. In perhaps the most clever and most magical aspect of her work, Ms. Morgenstern brings her entrancing circus and its allure to play in the pages of her book, making the book itself just as ineffably enticing as the circus whose story it relates.
In short: read this book. And then try to describe it and let me know how you fare.