Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is like most hypes tend to be probably way overhyped. Luckily the cat read this a year after the hype so she didn’t really feel obliged to either love this to death or hate it for eternity. If you don’t know what The Night Circus is about – and the cat didn’t – you might just pick it up because of the glowing recommendations on the cover, or because your curiosity is piqued by the blurb. And the recs and the blurb are right: The Night Circus is an enchanting tale and Erin Morgenstern does write dazzling prose. However, while reading the cat continuously had to wonder about two things: when is this epic magic battle really going to start, and is there really a romance going on?
The Night Circus starts when two men – in a seemingly Victorian context – enter into a contest, a wager, a calculated magical bet of some kind. Prospero the Enchanter has found a new protégé in his 5-year-old daughter Celia and sees in her the ideal contestant for a game he lost the previous time against the mysterious Mr A.H. A.H. finds that contestant in orphan Marco. The contest is one that is timeless and magical and by its own definition almost indefinable. Told in a nonlinear way we experience the grooming period of both contestants, we are bedazzled by the various tents at the circus, the Cirque des Rêves, which is only open from sunset to sunrise and pops up unannounced at various places around the world. Unbeknownst to the contestants, the visitors and also the reader at times, the circus itself is the arena in which the battle has to be fought and won.
Erin Morgensterns strength and weakness lies in her enchanting prose. The mood and the atmosphere that she manages to create is a fantastical one, one that makes you forget there’s supposed to be narrative going on. She almost cons you in believing that there’s a real battle going on , that there’s a star-crossed romance between Celia and Marco (there first real conversation is about halfway through the novel – Morgenstern does take her time) and that somehow the mysterious cirque des rêves can exist in the rich imagination of the rêveur if not the willing reader.
The Night Circus is a alluring read, but not without its flaws. It’s an indulgent read, indulgent on the part of the writer and the reader. It’s indeed a pity that Morgenstern canalized her efforts in only creating mood through incredibly vivid imagery. As such the narrative just meanders on, in a non-linear way, and actually feels a bit like a magic trick. It’s not a bad book, not by any means. The cat enjoyed reading it, was caught up in the magic, but she couldn’t but feel a bit conned at the same time…