Okay, so, this book. I heard some folks bein’ real excited about it earlier this year, and I was like, magicians? Circuses? Secret plots OF DOOM? I am so in. And so I put a hold on it at the library, some ridiculous amount of time in advance. And then in the intervening weeks this book seemed to get ALL the publicity, showing up on lots of blogs and in newspapers and on NPR, and everyone was like OMG THIS BOOK IS TEH AWESOMEST and I was like, ohlord. Because I’ve read those books before, and I have not liked them.
But as you can tell, this book I liked a ton, possibly because all those things that drew me into the story, and that made me worry that they would not be as good as everyone was shouting about, were really not that important. Yes, there are magicians. There is a mysterious contest so hush-hush that even the competitors have no idea what the contest is or how to win it. There is intrigue and subterfuge. But what I cared about was the circus.
The circus is this nearly completely black-and-white affair, with dozens of little tents with your usual circus fare and a few tents with really magical things — a magician disguised as an illusionist, a labyrinth, a wishing tree, a landscape made entirely of ice but still realistically aroma-ed. And what makes the circus truly special is that the author makes sure you know exactly what everything looks like and smells like and feels like and all those other sensory things. About a bonfire:
“As you walk closer, you can see that it sits in a wide black iron cauldron, balanced on a number of clawed feet. Where the rim of a cauldron would be, it breaks into long strips of curling iron, as though it has been melted and pulled apart like taffy. The curling iron continues up until it curls back into itself, weaving in and out amongst the other curls, giving it the cage-like effect. The flames are visible in the gaps between and rising slightly above. They are obscured only at the bottom, so it is impossible to tell what is burning, if it is wood or coal or something else entirely.”
Morgenstern intersperses short sensory passages like that throughout the novel, but she writes all of her scenes in a similarly opulent way. At first I was a bit put off by this seemingly over-verbose writing, and in a few places it sort of gets away from Morgenstern, but in general she makes it work fantastically and it is absolutely my favorite aspect of the book. I really want to get my hands on the audiobook so that this writing and Jim Dale’s voice can make beautiful babies in my brain.
If you’re more of a story person, I’m not sure you’ll be as enamored with the book; the plot is fairly simple, starts off quite slow, and ends abruptly AND with a not-declared-as-such-but-it-totally-is-and-can’t-deny-it epilogue, but though I found myself saying more than once “If this goes one step farther I’m calling shenanigans,” the book managed never to take that step, at least by my measurements.
I wrote on Twitter the other night that “I’ve read through the last page of The Night Circus, but I’m certainly not finished with it…” and that holds true today. I spent more than a week reading this book not because I didn’t have time to devour it in one sitting but because I didn’t want to. I wanted to savor that writing and put off leaving the circus as long as possible. And I’m not kidding about the audiobook. My library doesn’t have it yet but when they do, you’ll be seeing another post about The Night Circus right here.
Recommendation: If you like shiny pretty things or magic or clown-less circuses, you’ll probably be happy here.