Have you ever read something that was so enchanting and baffling that you needed some time to think about it? That recently happened to me when I finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think about it. Now, I realize that it’s full of wonder and enhancement, but I wish I cared about it more.
The Night Circus is about many things. First and foremost, it centers on the titular object that arrives without warning. Called Le Cirque des Rêves (or The Circus of Dreams), it contains black-and-white canvas tents and breathtaking amazements, yet it’s only open at night. Behind the scenes, there’s a fierce competition between two young magicians named Celia and Marco. They’ve been training for this purpose since they were young and by their mercurial instructors, but unbeknownst to them, only one can be left standing. Things get complicated when they fall in love. However, the game must play out, and everyones’ fates from the performers to the patrons hang in the balance.
Morgenstern apparently wrote this novel over three years during National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), and I can tell. This book has a non-linear structure, for it tends to jump around in the timeline. Some people may be irritated by this, but I was fine with it since the novel’s subject is about something that’s unique and follows its own set of rules like how the developers don’t age. Hence, its structure does the same.
Speaking of unique things, the world-building of the circus was exquisite. From the moment the circus first arrives, readers are immediately taken into its multiple tents, how it’s only open from sunset to sunrise, and how it only contains performers that can’t be found anywhere else. I could easily understand why it would have people following it all the time and why the book is being made into a movie at this time (even though no new information about the adaptation has arrived since 2019). And of course, more mysterious things associated with the circus reveal themselves as the novel progresses. The descriptions of the various elements including the physical circus itself were impeccable. I could easily imagine a lot of things from the black and white tents to how the characters look. I’m going to be honest. In my mind, Widget and Poppet – the Murray twins – looked like Ron Weasley. It works in mysterious ways.
I liked the characters. All of them have their own backstories and defined personalities. On the other hand, much like the movie Dunkirk, the book doesn’t spend much time with each character before moving on to another, yet it comes back to them eventually. However, as the book progressed, I couldn’t get myself emotionally attached to them until the very end. Part of this is because the novel is written in third person, which basically contains a narrator, who’s completely detached from the story, telling it.
Another thing is that the plot gets confusing towards the end. I understand that Marco and Celia want to be together despite the competition forcing them apart, but how did they defy the odds? What made them vanish? Also, who put out that bonfire? I guess it’s something that I have to reread in the future.
Jim Dale narrates the audiobook. For those who don’t know him and/or haven’t read the Harry Potter audiobooks, Dale is a world renown actor, composer, director, and singer, songwriter, narrator. He’s won a Tony for his role in the musical Barnum and several Audie awards for various audiobooks like Peter and the Star Catchers and the aforementioned Harry Potter series. He’s even been nominated for an Oscar for the title song for the movie Georgy Girl (he wrote the lyrics). In other words, he’s a big deal.
Now, you’re probably wondering how he’s narrating The Night Circus. He’s good. He makes his characters distinct with little touches. For example, Celia’s instructor and father Hector Bowen displays eccentricity and a slight Northern English accent, while Chandresh Christopher Lefèvre – the owner of Le Cirque des Rêves has a similar vibe but with a more posh voice. He also narrates Poppet and Widget with well-articulated Scottish accents. The main complaint I have with his performance is that he makes the younger characters sound too old. For example, when readers first encounter a 19-year-old Marco, Dale makes him sound like at least 20 years older. Of course, as Marco gets older, the voicing makes more sense.
All in all, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a unique magic realism novel. Its world-building and the characters are well defined. On the other hand, the third-person point of view made it a little hard for me to be fully emotionally invested in the story, and the plot could be confusing if one doesn’t pay full attention. I would recommend it to those who like magic realism as well as reading about circuses and forbidden love. I wonder how the movie will translate the novel to the screen if it ever gets there. We’ll see how that goes.
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