Commentary: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

NightA stunningly lyrical and compelling novel, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is one of those novels where I asked myself: How did Morgenstern come up with this idea and execute it so beautifully? It’s one of those books that makes me wish I could write fiction. The book has deep themes, motifs, and deliciously delightful characters. Oh, and a sensual romance where the lovers court by creating dramatic and aesthetically heart-wrenching illusions for each other. Who wouldn’t want to read this novel?

In the late 1800s to early 1900s, Le Cirque des Reves¬†(The Circus of Dreams) arrives unexpectedly. Word of mouth announces its arrival, rather than promotions, and there’s a catch, too. This circus is only open at night. Once inside, everything related to the circus is in monochromatic colors, rather than the usual colorful array in a circus, and the acts are one-of-a-kind, from an illusionist to animal tamers to acrobats. All acts have separate tents, rather than one big top. Children and adults alike are swept by the magic of Le Cirque des Reves, but as suddenly it arrives, it vanishes, leaving disappointment in its wake.

The descriptions of the circus, the sensory details and imagery that Morgenstern uses, made me feel like I was there. I wanted to drink that spiced cider and could smell those candied apples. I wanted one of the “cinnamon whatnots” (19) that were “[l]ayers of pastry and cinnamon and sugar all rolled into a twist and covered in icing”(195). (Seriously, this book was hell on my diet!) The descriptions of the scents alone brought forth childhood flashbacks.

But really, the circus is just the platform for the real magic–the magical competition between Marco Alisdair and Celia Bowen. The competition was set up by Celia’s father, Hector, and his frenemy, Alexander. The rules are unclear to Marco and Celia, with very little information supplied by Hector or Alexander as to how they should play the game. The first part of the novel focuses on Celia’s and Marco’s varying lessons on magic. They both compliment each other, in terms of what they can do and what they can’t. As a venue for their competition, the circus provides them an arena where they can use whimsical imaginings to defeat each other. But with a lack of information on the parts of the mentors, the circus becomes a place where they use their magic to write “love letters” (346) to each other. This is one of the excerpts from a chapter entitled “The Lovers”:

“Standing on the platform in the midst of the crowed, high enough that they can be viewed clearly from all angles, are two figures, still as statues…They stand entwined but not touching, their heads tilted toward each other. Lips frozen in the moment before (or after) the kiss….. Many patrons only glance at them before moving on, but the longer you watch, the more you can detect the subtlest of motions. The change in the curve of a hand as it hovers near an arm. The shifting angle of a perfectly balanced leg. Each of them always gravitating toward the other. Yet they still do not touch.” (224-225)

FABULOUS! This statue’s delicate dance of courtship depicts the relationship of Celia and Marco, who have been forced into their competitor roles, but who unexpectedly want to change the rules of their mentors’ game.

And the descriptions of the clocks, one of the main motifs of the novel that fits well with the thematic concept of time, is well-wrought, such as this description:

“At the center, where a cuckoo bird would live in a a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler. Dressed in harlequin style with a grey mask, he juggles shiny silver balls that correspond to each hour. As the clock chimes, another ball joins the rest until at midnight he juggles twelve balls in a complex pattern” (123).

Like this clock made by Herr Thiessen, a clock maker who is enamored with the circus, many other of Thiessen’s elaborate circus clock creations show up repeatedly at significant moments, as do other implements of time.

So, my dear readers, I would definitely recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for lovers of romance and literary fiction.

Until next time, enjoy the magic that Celia, Marco, and truly wonderful secondary characters create in The Night Circus.

Ta-ta, my lovelies,

HMichaele

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