Whilst waiting at Liverpool airport for a plane back to Geneva, I thought I had best get something to read from the bookshop. I had my notes and texts for my Linguistics exam the following morning, but even that might not have been enough to keep me going for a five hour journey back to Zurich… Intrigued by its monochromatically stylish cover, its author’s whimsical name, and its recommendation from another of my absolute favourite authors, Audrey Niffenegger, I picked up The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
Over the course of the journey home, I read avidly, frantically turning pages. The narrative is beguiling, its characters mysterious and original, and the circus itself as the centrepiece of the tale is a fantastical, delightful creation that made me wish such things truly did exist. The notion of a circus that opens at night and closes at dawn brought a whole new spin to the idea of nocturnal journeys.
The story is set in the late 19th century, straying into the first years of the 20th, and focuses on two illusionists who are not what they seem – for their magic is real. The circus forms the venue for a magical struggle between Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair that was decreed by their mentors when they were only children. Bound together, the two fight their battle ignorant of the stakes or what it will mean for one of them to win. They are surrounded by a host of weird and wonderful folk. The reader is introduced to the Night Circus and its inhabitants through the eyes of its visitors – particularly in the form of Bailey, a young man from Massachusetts who dreams of something greater than inheriting his father’s farm, and Herr Thiessen, clockmaker and creator of the ‘Reveurs’, a group of people around the world united by their love of the Night Circus.
The book has an incredible atmosphere to it that is generated and maintained by Morgenstern’s excellent prose. About halfway through the book I realised that it was all written in the present tense – which I would have expected to find jarring, but here it operates with great success. Like Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, the tale switches back and forth between times and points of view, slowly building its layers of narrative to an exciting climax.
If you love Gothic fiction; if you like to think that maybe – just maybe – magic might not be mere illusion; if you are a wanderer in the night, a fan of nocturnal fiction and whimsy – then look no further than The Night Circus.