I very rarely buy debut novels within the first week or two of their release. In fact, unless it’s a novel in a series or by an author I’ve been desperately looking forward to, I hardly ever buy a book off of the “New Release” table. But I had come across the description of The Night Circus at my job (I work at a library) and when I went to Barnes and Noble soon after, I picked up the book to read the first page or two. I ended up being stuck at the table, with customers having to work around me, which convinced me to buy the book.
Unfortunately (or perhaps not so unfortunately), Paolini’s Inheritance came out soon after, so Morgenstern’s lyrical book was shelved until I could finish Paolini’s saga.
And this book truly is lyrical. You don’t really come across that very much anymore. I think Robin McKinley is the only other author I’ve encountered who paints pictures with words as vividly as Erin Morgenstern does in her debut novel, The Night Circus.
And what is it about? At it’s most basic, it is a love story. But it’s a love story tangled up in the long standing feud between magicians, as well as in the story of a traveling circus. There are these side players who don’t seem to have a whole lot to do with the story, but who, in the end, play large roles as Morgenstern brings all the elements together in the story’s climax.
Her style is also something quite unusual. Most novels are written in the third person, past tense. However, she switches between third person, present tense and second person, present tense. The second person (which is “you”) isn’t overly done. It would be very easy to overwhelm the reader with it but Morgenstern uses it to draw the reader into the experience of the circus, giving the illusion that you are being escorted through the circus and that escort is telling you the circus’s story while you go from tent to tent. To avoid confusion and to help with the transitions between points of view, each chapter is headed with a place and a date.
Overall, I thought this technique was absolutely fascinating and I’m tempted to try it in a future novel.
Though the novel involves this epic love and these powerful figures, it isn’t overdone. It isn’t explosions and epic magic battles a la Hogwarts. It’s all very reserved, and constrained, and careful, like watching a ballet. The way Morgenstern sets the scene and paints the picture, you can feel the depth of feeling the characters are experiencing without it being splashed across the page in bloody lines. In fact, where the circus is concerned, there is a definite lack of any color at all. This is contrasted with chapters full of rich, jewel-tone colors, leaving the reader feeling dizzied and hyper-sensitive of what’s happening on the page.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I usually gulp down novels like ice cream. But as I couldn’t do that with Paolini because I would miss a detail, I had to take my time with The Night Circus. Everything is so exquisite and the attention to detail and emotion is so fine, one has to take his time with it. Like the people who visit the circus and spend all night slowly going from tent to tent, the reader slowly goes from chapter to chapter, caught up and spellbound.
I highly recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern to anyone who enjoys poetically written stories about love that refuses to die and mysteries that don’t entirely solve themselves.