Monday, December 5, 2011

A Gorgeous Enchantment of a Book: Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus

I often worry, when a book gets a lot of prerelease hype. I wonder if what is actually written in the pages can possibly live up to the praise being sung. Too often, I have picked up a copy of something it seems that everyone else in the world has raved about, only to find that the book leaves me cold.

This worry gets magnified when the book being praised is one that seems like something I might love.  So when it seemed like everyone in the publishing world was turning cartwheels of joy over Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel, The Night Circus, this summer, I began to get very nervous. I mean, a circus of dreams that magically appears overnight? Dueling magicians? This seemed like exactly my kind of thing, and I was mildly worried that there was no way I could love it as much as I wanted to.

The Night Circus is, thankfully, a gorgeous enchantment of a book. It is not only a book that I love, but a book that is beautifully written – the kind that I will put on my Best Books of the Year list, and reread with great pleasure.

The titular night circus is Le Cirque des RĂªves, a circus that arrives overnight, as if by magic. It is not the sort of circus one attends in expectation of a car full of clowns or a spangle-dressed woman putting her head in the mouth of a lion. It is a circus of enchantment. At the heart of the circus are two young illusionists, Celia and Marco, who are engaged in a magical competition with one another. The circus is both their labor of love and their battleground.

The Night Circus is probably not a book that will appeal to the reader who craves fast paced action and clear resolution. There are stakes here, and consequences, but events build on each other, and unwind slowly, like a well-crafted illusion, like the progression of an intricate clock. This is a book that celebrates beauty – that revels in gorgeous description. It is also a book that wields its beauty like a weapon, pushing on the glamour and the glory of the illusion until it cracks open, spilling out its consequences, and breaking your heart at the same time.

It was there – in the exploration of heartbreak, and consequences, of the pain that is a foil to perfection, and the sacrifices made to maintain any illusion – that The Night Circus moved from being a beautifully written book to being a great book. Morgenstern writes of magic and wonder and dreams, but she builds them on a foundation of people and so gives them blood and souls, and that is where their true power is born.

In the end, I did not love The Night Circus as much as I wanted to when I began to hear its praises sung – I loved it more. I highly recommend it.

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