Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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Published: 2011

 

This was a bit of a tricky read to write a review on, to be perfectly honest, as it’s such a strange amalgamation of themes, feelings, and characters. I had to look online for some inspiration as to how best describe this book. I came across it being referenced as a phantasmagorical fairy tale. Confused? So was I. So I had to Google what “phantasmagorical” even meant (*super embarrassing, please tell me I’m not the only one*), and as soon as I read the definition I smiled because it was bang on what how I would describe the book.

For those of you who likewise have no idea what “phantasmagorical” has a few meanings:

adjective
1. having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination.
2. having the appearance of an optical illusion, especially one produced by a magic lantern.
3. changing or shifting, as a scene made up of many elements.

All three of these are EXACTLY what the book feels like as you read it (minus the lantern bit…)! It’s got elements of reality, which allows you to be able to picture it and relate to the characters, but then as you keep reading the novel tricks you and most of the time I felt a bit dazed and confused as to why things where happening the way they were. To top of it of course it was NOT in chronological order which aided the illusion as you never quite knew what lay around the bend or if things were really how they appeared.

It was a relatively easy read, you did have to pay attention to characters and timelines because it wasn’t in proper order, so you had to keep reminding yourself of what the characters were or weren’t aware of at the beginning of each chapter which was a tad annoying, but not impossible to follow through.

Set primarily in ahistorical London, we follow a magical circus called Le Cirque des Rêves that is only open dawn until dusk, and has no set schedule (it just appears randomly around the world). It’s atypical to a regular circus as it has tents such a blooming garden made of ice and vertical cloud maze. The two main acts are that of the illusionist that transform her jacket into a raven and a fortune teller that actually reads the uncertain future. This enchanting circus has a more sinister element, as two powerful magicians place a bet on who can train a “better” or more powerful protege, with the circus being their main ring where both their proteges display their talents.

I found the characters to be slightly “safe” and none of them really took me by surprise or resonated with me. Having said that, there was a nice variety of stock characters and they are quite easy to imagine, which I think goes down to author’s good descriptions and overall writing style.

I do think that the real gem of this book, and the main reason why I gave it the stars I did was because the book did what it set out to do. You feel like you are in a dream or part of some strange illusion, trick of the eye and brain. It feels quite light and

Overall, I think that the story is a pleasant quick read, but I can’t say it’s anything revolutionary. Reading the whole book through, there weren’t any pages that I marked because there weren’t any particular quotes or lines that really stood out for me. The author’s writing style is definitely the main driver of the book for me, as you felt the mystery, the magic and the illusion throughout the whole book.

 

Q: Have you ever loved an element of a novel, but was not struck by the plot or overall book?

 

 

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