Retro Book Review: The Night Circus

The Night CircusThis book transports you into a world that is fantastical and supernatural and filled with magic. It is an adult’s fairy-tale that sits in the historical fiction category as well as in fantasy being set in the late Victorian era and being about ‘real’ magic, and not that of the smoke and mirrors variety.

The Night Circus tells the story of two powerful magicians who have a long and indefinite lifespan and an equally long running competition to see which of their two schools of thought on magic surpasses the other. For this particular challenge, Prospero the Enchanter chooses his 6-year-old daughter who has been born with supernatural powers that need to be nurtured and developed, and the other, known as Alexander chooses an innocent 9-year-old orphan who is ignorant of the world of magic when he is first taken from boarding school.

The two are bound together in the challenge and neither has a choice in the matter. They are pruned, coached and forced into developing their skills as they grow up (with one harnessing her natural talent while the other taking a more scholarly approach) and the circus is their platform – the place in which they are to compete in order for a winner to be decided.

They become as bound to the circus as they are to each other and so invested in the circus that as the story goes on we start to see the darker side to the long-running competition between their mentors and the high stakes involved in keeping the circus running.

The circus itself becomes the centrepiece of the story and has a personality and life of its own – the circus in a sense becomes the main protagonist if indeed the concept of a place/venue/show being a main character can be fathomed. But Erin Morgenstern uses a lot of beautifully crafted language to bring the scenes of the circus to life in such a way that you feel as if the circus is a living, breathing entity that contains a whole array of working organs within it.

Throughout the book you are thrown about through the years and different stages of the circus’ life which makes you feel a little as if you’re in a time machine and can be a little on the off-putting side if you’re not making a mental note of when you are. While the story is not at all linear it is threaded together well and although you sometimes feel a bit dizzy from all that time travel it does add to the magic of the story and also really cleverly communicates the fact that the characters in the story don’t age and have unusually long lifespans.

Not often, but sometimes I read a book and can’t stop imagining what it would be like as a movie. Generally I when a book is adapted as a movie I’m sceptical about the ability to do the book justice and am usually so terrified that the movie will ruin the book for me preferring instead to always picture the people and places how they seem in my mind. But, on occasion I read a book and constantly imagine it as a movie and wonder if it weren’t better as one. This was one such book – with scenes that are so vivid in their description of light and shadows, tastes and smells, colours and textures you start to image how a Director might bring it to life – or perhaps it’s just really great writing.

I’ve never been a particular fan of fantasy but have started to delve into the genre more and more lately – however I tend to be reading the less whimsical and lighthearted and instead reading the darker, more intense fantasy novels like The Game of Thrones, which is what I am currently reading. This one is much more of the whimsical variety and on the one hand, while it does have a darker thread to the story, is a very lighthearted and almost silly read where one has to be willing to give over to the idea that magic truly exists and moreover, be willing to read something that is much more of a fairy tale nature to really relax into it.



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