The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is possibly the best book I’ve read all year. I love the way it crosses genres. The story follows the life of a very special circus; it appears without warning, and delights through the night. Morgenstern’s characters and readers are constantly amazed by the wonders of the many and changing exhibitions of the circus. There are tents with acrobats, a magical labyrinth, a contortionist, and of course, an illusionist. The catch is that the illusionist’s tricks only appear to be illusions; in fact, they are real magic. It is this magic that “powers” the circus. The tents appear to be feats of illusion and mechanics, but are really exhibitions of magic by two competing magicians. The thing is: no one knows. Not even the other performers.
The reader learns that the circus is merely the stage of an elaborate game that began in their childhood. The illusionist is one player, but she does not know who the other player might be. Celia’s father and his rival, the mysterious Mr. A. H—, have been training their respective students all their lives. By no choice of their own, their lives revolve around this game. Only later do they find out that one of their lives must also end with it. The trouble is, the players are not playing by “the rules” of the game that supposedly has no rules. They collaborate. Worse, they fall in love.
This book is magical (literally and figuratively), romantic, and beautifully literary. She intersperses her chapters with small vignettes that give a glimpse of different aspects of the circus. She layers the magic, mystery, and wonder of the night circus throughout the novel. The Night Circus is a masterpiece in ideas alone, from clocks that unfold to create life-like, moving scenes to a train that does not require any tracks and leaves no trace, merely folds itself out into the tents of the circus and back into a train again. But the way she describes it is just as magnificent. She slips these creations into the narrative with such subtlety that her descriptions are elegant, rather than showy.
Morgenstern also does an amazing job developing real, fascinating, and truly unique characters. I love that you get to know Celia and Marco before they fall in love, as separate entities. It makes you party to the secret that they have essentially by writing love letters their whole lives, in the form of their magical moves–creations of staggering beauty including a glistening ice garden complete with the scents of each flower and a burning wishing tree that draws power from past wishes.
I also appreciated that Morgenstern develops all her characters. She emphasizes the fact that the magical competition has very real, sometimes catastrophic effects on the non-magical characters of the novel. Putting magic into context can be difficult, and authors of magical realism often miss the mark.
Erin Morgenstern does everything beautifully. This book is as magical of the night circus itself. I guarantee it will enchant you.