“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
The Night Circus opens in New York, in 1873, and over the course of the novel we travel with it, across continents for the next thirty years. From the opening pages of this exquisite and fabulously imaginative book the reader is transported into a richly detailed and bewitchingly magical world. Morgenstern’s Victorian New York is a city with an underground population of enchanters and illusionists, creating spellbinding shows for their enthralled audiences as they travel with their circus.
The twist, however, is that, unbeknownst to the nightly patrons, the illusions they are witnessing are real, the magicians able to manipulate objects, people, emotions, and even the fabric of time. Word rapidly spreads of the circus’s breath-taking illusions and tricks, of multiple, striped tents full of every wonder and delight imaginable, of fire-shows, acrobatics and magical, transformative experiences. Nobody ever sees the circus arrive or depart. It simply appears, overnight. The monochrome tents remain almost bleakly devoid of life during daylight hours. But, as darkness falls and the gates swing open, the people ushered across the threshold step from the heaviness and solidity of their everyday lives and into a lighter, other-worldly space, teeming with unexplained sensations and limitless possibility.
But, behind the revelry and astonishment and the wonder and the delight of the audience, there lies a dark side to the circus and its inception.
The Night Circus offers delight, escapism and thought-provoking ideas of fate, destiny and autonomy in equal measure. Morgenstern’s descriptions of the circus, the caramel-scented air, the magical timepiece at the gates, the rich and ever-changing sights and sounds of the performances, are subtly entrancing, taking you by the hand and leading you gently and steadily into a magical place which utterly delights and from which you, like the bewitched audience, will not want to leave.
However, as the novel progresses, these sensory pleasures become juxtaposed with the increasing awareness of a darker menace. Just how trapped are the members of the Night Circus? How much autonomy do they have over their emotions and feelings let alone their actions? Is anyone even aging within the circus fence?
One of The Night Circus’s greatest strengths for me, lay in the richly depicted characters which populate the greater world around the circus, rather than within the tents themselves, all of whom are drawn in, through choice or by manipulation, until the circus becomes their entire life. This disparate and likeable group are bound together, across the decades and, as cracks begin to show in the fabric of the circus’s existence, they begin to wonder who among them they can trust as each of them delve deeply into the dark and secretive reality of their place within the circus with alarming results.
The Night Circus is a book to lose yourself in. It is beautiful, unsettling, magical and wonderfully written. It is a story of bravery, love and friendship. A story of power and the abuse of that power. A story of fate and tangled destinies but also of boldly making choices with which to change the course set for you. The Night Circus is a marvellous, rich experience which will live with you long after the gates have closed.
The Night Circus
By Erin Morgenstern
391 pages. 2011
About Cat Blyth
Cat Blyth is a yoga teacher in Kendal in the English Lake District. She lives with her husband, three daughters and the world's most beautiful Border Collie dog. She has been writing all her life and is currently seeking a home for her three completed unpublished novels. She also writes blogs on yoga, meditation and well-being for her website: www.barefootyogakendal.co.uk. You can also find her on Instagram and Facebook.