Book Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.

Night Circus

Ok, I admit it – Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus sat on my shelf for ages before I finally read it. It was one of those titles I’d heard good things about but for some reason kept skipping over. Let me save you the suspense – it’s well worth a read. Set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the story follows a mysterious circus called Le Cirque des Rêves (the Circus of Dreams) that travels across America and Europe dazzling spectators with its maze of tents. Offering everything from a contortionist who twists and molds her body in seemingly impossible directions to the Ice Garden greenhouse where every last plant and decoration are made of ice and magically regenerate if disturbed by curious circus-goers, the Night Circus is truly entrancing. Barnum & Bailey’s, this isn’t.

Before you go thinking the book is simply about the various attractions at this wonderfully bizarre Big Top, Morgenstern deftly weaves in more sinister elements into the backstory of the circus. Why do none of the performers ever seem to age? Why is nobody linked to the circus allowed to ever leave it? At the center of it all are Celia and Marco, both illusionists. Bound from childhood in an unwritten challenge by their nefarious caretakers, magicians who created the Night Circus as the perfect venue for the competition, the young performers are doomed to a lifelong battle of the minds as it were in which there can be only one victor left standing. When Celia and Marco finally meet as adults and discover they are one another’s competition, sparks fly and – perhaps inevitably – they fall in love. A fairly predictable turn of events, sure, but you can’t fault Morgenstern for it since what tugs at the reader’s heart-strings more than star-crossed lovers?

Alright, it may not be Serious Literature but sometimes all you want from a novel is to escape into another world for a few hours – and a little magic and romance never hurts (it is Valentine’s Day, after all) – and on those scores, The Night Circus is a well-written read that more than delivers.

And for those who prefer listening to stories, The Night Circus is read by the incomparable Jim Dale who so majestically performed all the characters’ voices for the entire Harry Potter series on audiobook. Also available on OverDrive.

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