Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Dark Glamour

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is about a deadly rivalry between two ancient enemies, a strange circus, and a forbidden love.

The two enemies are magicians who have developed differing schools of thought. To ascertain which is right (and it is essential to them that one of them be right), they each adopt a child and bind it to a lifelong magical competition. The two children, Marco and Celia, are cruelly trained throughout their childhoods to defeat the other.

The magical competition results in Le Cirque des Reves, which mysteriously appears in a random location, opens at night, and closes at dawn. In the black-and-white circus tents, customers encounter some of the usual circus acts - contortionists and fortune-tellers - but there are also a variety of experiences that can only be magical. An endless labyrinth of rooms, some filled with trees, some with snowstorms, some with burning desert sands. A bonfire that burns with multicolored flames and without apparent fuel. A wishing tree covered with flickering candles; when you make a wish, a candle lights; when your wish comes true, the candle is extinguished. Et cetera.

These strange exhibits were created by Marco and Celia, competing and, eventually, collaborating. The two realize that they cannot just make circus spectacles forever; one of them must win, the other lose. Is there any way for them to escape the onus to which they are bound?

My favorite thing about the novel is the way that the intricate dance between Celia and Marco gradually enmeshes other people. Drama builds as our protagonists must try not only to escape their own fate but keep others from getting hurt or killed in the process.

 Unfortunately, I was less enchanted by the actual circus than I was supposed to be. I’m afraid I don’t really like circuses very much, and I found myself skimming some long descriptions of supposedly-wondrous circus delights. I was relieved to find no magical clowns.

Morgenstern’s novel of love, hate, and magic is dreamlike, endlessly creative, and sometimes a little slow. Her goal in The Night Circus is to immerse the reader in another reality, and she succeeds. Though her constant evocation of marvels seems a little stifling, I can promise that The Night Circus is not quite like anything else you’ve ever read.

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