Monday, May 20, 2013

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

I need to learn to listen to Chapters a bit more – they clearly know what’s better for me when it comes to my reading list…. This was the realization that came to me after finishing my latest read The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern.  Chapters has been peddling this book hard since it was first released, giving it prominence of place in its displays, so every time I turned around, there is was.  I finally got the message this week, and picked up Morgenstern’s work, thinking I’d get around to it eventually.  But it only sat on my coffee table for a couple of days before I took the plunge, and boy am I glad I did.

Now, fair warning, I still have a bit of a book hang-over from this one (that’s where you’re still wrapped up in a book, and may not be able to give yourself enough distance to fully appreciate all the nuances), but here goes the review anyway.  So, a word on plot: The Night Circus tells the story of Marco and Celia, students of two great magicians who are bound together at a young age in a magical dual; the rules are never quite explained to them, but the venue for the dual becomes the Cirque des Rêves, in which Celia is the illusionist, and which Marco helps to manage.  The problem is, neither Celia nor Marco understand what their mentors have engaged them in, and so they fall in love.  The conflict comes from how to engage and finish the magical challenge in the face of the consequences for all those around them.

If I had to pick one word to describe this book, it would be unctuous.  Reading is a visual medium, with a slight aural component that each reader adds via our own internal voice, which provides the voice for the narrator and character.  Other than that, reading is mainly an activity that we undertake with our eyes.  Morgenstern, however, set that paradigm on its head with The Night Circus, which sets out (and in my opinion manages) to capture all the senses, and actively engage them with the story.

The story Morgenstern paints is one of ocular mystery, as her circus is set in a world of black and white with pops of colour; the reader can almost hear the crowds that mingle and rush between the tents of the Cirque des Rêves looking for that one tent that will satisfy their curiosity; the smell of caramel on the breeze is almost discernable while reading; as is the taste of the caramel apples, popcorn and cider.  The last sense, that of touch, is engaged through strolling around the tents, seeing the performers, interacting with them…. Morgenstern engages all the physical senses in the same way that Perfume (by Patrick Suskind) engages the sense of smell, and she does it with a deft hand.

But Morgenstern was clearly not satisfied with just engaging the physical senses of her readers – she also set out to engage the emotional senses as well.  By drawing the reader in with the feel, look, smell and taste of the Circus, Morgenstern is then able to trade on the emotional feel of her setting, and on the emotional investment that the reader has made to the setting and, by extension, the characters; reading about the loves, challenges, and successes of the characters put the readers in the story on a level that is very hard to attain.  I honestly cared about the happiness of all the characters, even the less sympathetic ones; my heart broke along with several of the characters when each of their realities became clear.  I often engage emotionally with characters that I like, but Morgenstern upped the ante on this one, and really had me involved.

So, final verdict?  Obviously it’s ‘read this book’.  I’m already looking forward to re-reading it in the future, so I can once again engage in the unctuous environment that Morgenstern has created and to catch the nuances that I’m sure I missed.  Much like the Cirque des Rêves popped in and out of the lives of the people that visited it, so too did The Night Circus pop into my life unexpectedly; but now that I know about it, I’m on-board in a big bad way.  So, thank you Chapters, for knowing what was best for me, and putting The Night Circus in my path more than once – I finally got the message.  

1 comment:

  1. I loooove the term book hangover. And it is so appropriate for this book which I also waited until practically everyone else had already raved about it before giving it a shot. I do think the book was a bit style over substance, but man did this book have style so I was OK with this.