End Date: February 27
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Pages: 387 (hardcover)
Selected By: The Divine Ms. Em
“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque de Reves, and it is only open at night.
“But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game where only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.” – from the Amazon summary.
The Divine Ms. Em:
Ms. Em’s Favorite Character: None provided.
Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
Anyone who knows me knows that I require prose to be light, and purposeful – I think this embodies what I look for in prose. While I hated the extremely long passage in Rebecca recounting the number and kind of flowers on the road to Manderley, I absolutely enjoyed the ambiance set up by the author in The Night Circus. For every descriptive given, I was able to picture what exactly was going on, what it looked like, smelled like and felt like.
As for characters, I didn’t fall in love with anyone in this book. I can say I was intrigued by A. H. because we knew so little about him. We learned his philosophy and his desire to manipulate from the shadows. While I did not particularly care for the “game” being set forth for Celia and Marco, I could appreciate A.H.’s stance that privacy and discretion is much more conducive to being on display as the Great Prospero believed. What bothered me most about A.H. is that he plucked a young child from an orphanage, did not nurture Marco beyond his education, both magical and otherwise. A.H. is distant and aloof through most of the novel. This made me question, his motivations in his actions. Was his aloofness a result of not wanting to get too attached to his protégé or was it because he could care less? Unfortunately, we are not provided with a resolution for this. We are left to our own devices and to make a decision of our own accord. I am choosing to believe that he did not appear to be invested in Marco because he knew that he could lose him, especially if he was fond of him.
As for Prospero, I down right despised the character. He was a cad, arrogant and downright uncaring. We are introduced to him after a performance where he is disguising real magic as the conjured illusions that we are most likely subjected to by our modern day David Copperfield’s, etc. Now, upon finding out he has a child, he doesn’t think to behave fatherly, which would be understandable considering the vagabond life he led. I wouldn’t expect a selfish person to immediately become caring, giving or nurturing. Upon learning of Celia’s gifts, he immediately begins grooming her to be controlled and powerful. When A.H. approaches him about his fatherhood, Prospero’s response is not fatherly at all, but engage his only child in game of skill and control. To prove that he is ever right in his desire to be famed and beloved, he ultimately fakes his own death – that actually was funny because he caused himself more grief because in his brilliance he created a situation for himself that could not be easily undone. Yet, he continues to make himself a nuisance to those around him.
I have empathy for both Marco and Celia. Both are thrust into worlds they don’t particularly care to be in, at least until the circus comes into being. Celia was thrust upon an unsuspecting father, while Marco was sought out by someone who could have fulfilled a fatherly role (albeit a distant and cold father), but was more of a patron. Both were educated stringently, in the method deemed best by their respective mentors. Marco was not made to suffer physical tortures, but to fortify himself with education. While Celia was made to endure physical pain and mental torture (as far as I could tell), they both ended up in the same place: wanting to find a place to fit in and belong. Marco, unfortunately decided to allow himself to be distracted by someone he had no true interest in being with on a permanent basis. A minor distraction from his loneliness. However, Celia’s distraction from loneliness was found amongst her peers in the circus itself.
What I enjoyed about the pair is that while they could have been overly combative and downright rude to one another, but they instead began to work symbiotically. Actually, with the help of a conspirator, they were didn’t so much as compete as to compliment the other. Each adding onto the circus in a way that showed more reverence and love for one another rather than competition. I think both their mentors sorely underestimated the pair and what they would do with their skills. I think Tsukiko explained it best as the circus being like a love letter to one another. Each addition was a gift to the other, from the Winter Garden to the Wishing tree. I enjoyed how they took what was supposed to be a game and made it into a wonderful place that paid homage to the other and still allowed so many people to enjoy it.
I enjoyed the twins, Widget and Poppet. It felt like they were destined to be the new generation and keepers of the circus. Born on opening night, there was something especially magical about the pair. One has the gift of precognition, while the other could see the past. They befriend another young man, Bailey, someone who seems relatively normal compared to the rest of the characters. Each demonstrate a maturity and understanding that we don’t quite see in all the adults of the novel. Unfortunately, there was nothing that stood out about the trio that enhanced the story for me. If anything, they were a necessary vehicle to effect a change at the end of the book. However, I didn’t feel the urgency of their need or throughout the book up to and including the end.
I always like to expound upon human nature and how people’s actions during a novel reflect on real life. However, there isn’t too much I want to go into detail this time. What struck me most was nature vs nurture in this. Celia had the nature to be a great magician, whereas Marco was nurtured into being a magician. Yet, it can be argued that both were nurtured in the opposite direction, Celia to be ruthless and Marco to be solitary and they both behaved the complete opposite of what their mentor intended. However, I feel that A.H. did not wish for Marco to end up ruthless or withdrawn from society. In addition, we have other characters who perform the cliché roles of unrequited love and misplaced affections in Isobel, the codependent Burgess sisters, the manipulated eccentric benefactor of the circus in Chandresh, the grande dame of Tante Padva in her vision and grandeur, the ever fair and diplomatic Ethan Barris and probably my favorite, Herr Thiessen as the imaginative and creative clockmaker who managed to bring together so many enthusiasts of the circus.
As I said before, the characters did very little for me. The circus is what intrigued me and pushed me forward in my reading. This would have been a solid five if the characters added more substance. Unfortunately, they did not for me.
Esbe’s Favorite Character: While not technically a character, I still considered the circus itself to be the best feature of this novel.
Esbe read the hardback version of this book.
I actually did an interim review for The Night Circus about a year ago, but I was really looking forward to the chance to re-read this particular selection again. My first read-through was unfortunate in that it happened to fall right after a bout of binge-reading three Catherynne M. Valente novels, and upon reflection I felt perhaps I hadn’t given Morgenstern’s brain child a fair shake. Rather than repeating what I said in my previous review – most of which still stands – for the purposes of this review, I will primarily add only my newest impressions and a few of my favorite quotes.
For being her first published novel, The Night Circus is an absolute triumph for its author. With only a few sentences, she can transport you directly from the mundane to the magical; one moment you’re immersed in your own life, your own troubles, your work and responsibilities… and the next you’re plopped down in the middle of a ballroom, a showroom, a dining room, a train station – and most importantly, a circus. My favorite setting remains Marco’s room, covered in books and decorated with spiraling ribbons made of paper. My favorite scene also remains the same: the entire section involving the ballroom scene, from the color-changing gown, an apprentice’s conversation with and confession to their mentor, and the inevitable challenge with which the section ends – a challenge presented in the form of a kiss and made to not only those supervising the competition but to the recipient of that kiss, as well. “For once, let’s do what we want,” it seems to say to me. “I don’t give a damn about what they say we have to do or who they say we have to be – you do this with me, and there won’t be a power in all the world that can stop us.”
” ‘Names are not of nearly as much import as people like to suppose… A label assigned to identify you either by this institution or your departed parents is neither of interest nor value to me.’ “
Unfortunately, my opinion about the characters as a whole remains the same. When compared with the fantastical (and fantastic) magic spread across every page, the people themselves seem very flat. When I initially read the book last year, I was thrilled to learn that the movie rights had been purchased not long after it was published, and I was more than a little irritated at that point that nothing had been released about its development; now, I have an idea about what the hold-up might be: there’s plenty of scenery, plenty of lovely flash and glitter and kaboom with which to dazzle audiences… but there’s very little actual development when it comes to the characters themselves. To make a comparison, it would be a bit like screenwriters taking Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and removing everything except that which pertains to the Triwizard Tournament; yes it would probably have still drawn audiences, and yes it would certainly have been quite visually stunning, but in the end, people would look back and wonder, “But… why?” And it wouldn’t have bothered me so much – this lack of character development – given that one could make the argument that very little character development is done in classical fairy tales… except that Morgenstern does so much of her own magic when it comes to the circus; in fact, the circus becomes the only character that matters, the only one for which we know the beginning, the only one that is ever truly fleshed out and ever completely present and tangible.
“Trespassers Will Be Exsanguinated.”
And maybe that was the point. I thought so, when I’d read the book the first time – I’d considered that maybe I was nitpicking at something that had been done intentionally. Except that two of the other Ladies felt the same way – and told me so prior to our even discussing the book, and I know at least one of them didn’t read my previous review so could in no way have been influenced by my own opinion. So, even if it was an intentional and calculated move on the author’s part, it was perhaps not the best choice, since it still leaves most readers on average feeling after they finish the book that it was rather hollow in the character development area.
“People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see.”
I, like everyone else it seems, quite liked the interactions between Poppet and Widget. They bring levity and fun to what would otherwise be a rather somber – beautiful, but somber – story. Their understanding of the circus and the magic that happens there is purer and clearer than everyone else’s – or so it seemed to me, at any rate. They, unlike most of the characters, are motivated by joy – the gaining and keeping of it. Between the two of them, they hold all of time in their hands, yet they don’t seek to control it or change it – it is what it is, and they simply allow themselves to enjoy the ride as much as they may. I will admit, however, to feeling sorry for Isobel for the majority of the novel; she is clearly out of her league, and while it takes her far too long to admit it, it is clear from the sad desperation she exhibits throughout a majority of the book that she knows it to be true. While it’s easy to sigh and say, “Well, so-and-so can’t help who they love,” it’s hard to remember that the rule applies to everyone in the novel – and the most common response to unrequited love, no matter whether the object of one’s affections is kind or dismissive about it, is typically one of anger and vengeance, the old excuse of, “I’ll teach you to hurt me! I’ll hurt you, you just wait and see… I’ll get you!” Is it crappy? Absolutely. But is it believable? Totally.
” ‘There are no more battles between good and evil, no monsters to slay, no maidens in need of rescue. Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case… The quests lack clarity of goal or path. The beasts take different forms and are difficult to recognize for what they are. And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise… Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon, or a wolf and a scarlet-clad little girl. And is not the dragon the hero of his own story? Is not the wolf simply acting as a wolf should act?’ “
I will say that the “villains” of this piece – or the two characters set up to be the villains – are actually not as wicked as one might have thought they were upon first being introduced to them, but they are two very different men with two very different approaches to the competition that forces the story forward. Alexander, also referred to as Mr. A.H-, is not a kind man by any means, but he is not a cruel man, either. He selects his apprentice with care, and while he never treats him like an equal, he does at least treat him like a person. Alexander’s approach is academic, with emphasis on not just the how but the why; Marco’s skills reflect these teachings, with his attention to the details and his use of his powers for the practical as well as the extraordinary. Alexander responds to his protege’s summons, and he at least has the courtesy to listen to the latter’s questions and ideas. On the other hand, Hector Bowen – better known by his stage name Prospero the Enchanter – has his prospective protege thrust into his arms, and his first thoughts are not of surprise or even curiosity but of opportunity. He hones her into a weapon, a way to win, using pain as a motivator; Celia never pauses to consider how ridiculous it is for someone with her talents to allow themselves to be drenched in a London downpour – the idea of enchanting an umbrella to keep herself dry simply never crosses her mind – but she can turn a coat into a flock of birds and heal her own wounds without batting an eyelash. And Celia cannot escape Hector, he quite literally haunts her, judging her every move… her only freedom the circus itself, which serves first as her salvation, then as a showcase, and finally becomes, in a way, a prison of its own.
” ‘I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held. Trying to control what cannot be controlled. I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.’ “
All in all, this remains an absolutely beautiful novel – especially when you consider that this is her first! As with my previous review, I continue to hope Morgenstern is working on another book – if it involves the circus, great… but if not, I’d still willingly and excitedly give it a go. I’d recommend The Night Circus to just about everyone who loves fantasy, especially those of you who like a touch of the occult mixed with a bit of steampunk, a dash of Victorian, and a pinch of doomed – yet not – love in your escapism.
” ‘Esse quam videri,’ Celia says. ‘To be, rather than to seem.’ “
Elle’s Favorite Character: The circus itself. While not human (or anthropomorphized), it was still the main character in my opinion – the one constant character around whom all of the other supporting characters danced and dined and dueled.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I very much enjoyed The Night Circus. The author does a wonderful job describing everything and makes it all so enchanting that I wish I could live at the circus! I’m not sure what my talent would be, but I can assure you it would probably not be something elegant – maybe something comical… maybe I would be like Widget and tell stories, but I think I’d be more like Widget crossed with Amy Schumer.
“Wishes on sheep appear to work no better than wishes on stars.”
Regardless, the pictures that Morgenstern can paint with words is remarkable. I marked a place specifically where she describes the great clock, because it was just so fantastic – I wish that all the books I read would allow me to see as much and as well as she does.
“The finest of pleasures are always the unexpected ones.”
I don’t know that there was a character that I truly despised in this tale – there wasn’t any one person who stood out as wholly despicable, and if I found I disliked someone it was usually because I weighed in favor of someone else purely from a moral standpoint. I felt sorry for Isobel while also being angry with her; however, some stories must have strings that break and parts that crumble so that others may be built up, and Isobel was just that – our broken string. If I could say one thing to Isobel, it would be this: “I’m sorry that you had to sacrifice so much so that others could be. And I hope you’re sorry that you took it to such a bitchy level. ‘Nuff said.”
“Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent.”
I will say that some points of the story felt a little hollow to me. *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>> I want to know more of what happened to Bailey, and I’d really appreciate a more in-depth follow-up to what his role actually ended up being at the circus. <<< *****END SPOILER*****
” ‘Because I do not wish to know,’ he says. ‘I prefer to remain unenlightened, to better appreciate the dark.’ “
Also, I would like to add this:
Dear Ms. Morgenstern,
I am writing to ask that you write a sequel to this book. I think a lot of ends were tied up quite neatly in the end, but I would like to know more about what happened once Bailey took over. You are very talented, and we simply must know. Or else.
A new reveur,
BillMo of Gigglemug Book Club
“Prospero the Enchanter’s immediate reaction upon meeting his daughter is a simple declaration of: ‘Well, f***.’ “
BillMo’s Favorite Character: Poppet and Widget. I thought their story was a little different from all of the other inhabitants of the circus. I loved the fact that they and the circus were “born” at the same time and how their simultaneous creations impacted their lives differently than those who simply joined the circus.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.