Not since I was eleven have I read a book that has had me longing to enter the world about which I read, yearning for some tip, some clue, some hint of a world of secret things and objects of amazement lying in wait. Until The Night Circus.
The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.
But it is not open for business. Not just yet.
These opening lines of Erin Morgenstern's debut novel set the tone for the entire book, inviting a sense of wonder, mystery, and an element of whimsy onto the page from the outset. Jim Dale's narration of the passage will send chills down any magic-lovers spine, and leave listeners tingling for more.
As the story develops, we learn that the circus itself is the public stage for a challenge between two magicians, both of whom display wonder after wonder to a wide-eyed and disbelieving audience. Here, then, is a place where magic is on display for all to see, but in a world where magic is believed to be the stuff of myth, the displays are thought to be nothing more than illusion, put on for the entertainment of a paying crowd.
What are the consequences of such actions? What happens when the illusion of illusions can no longer be maintained? What price must one pay to win? To love?
The Night Circus has not been as well-loved by all as it was by me, and perhaps that is because I listened to, rather than read, the story. Because in fact, it is not about the story. Just as the circus is a mere backdrop against which two illusionists can throw their challenge, the book is a backdrop against which Morgenstern can exercise her power of descriptive language and powerful imagery. It is a means for whisking readers (or listeners) away from one world and into one similar but slightly altered, carried along by a desire to discover this world rather than merely find out what happens in it.
Some of this reviewer disappointment I attribute to that dreaded hype machine, which has made this wonderful little skirmish of a book sound like something it is not. Though there are spells and duels and romance and love triangles and even a semi-evil magician, this is not what makes The Night Circus special. No, instead its power lies in the fact that is a book of setting and description, touched with a small but helpful dose of plotlines, wrapped in striped paper and tied with a flourishing black-and-white bow.
Set aside any expectations but that you will discover something new, and The Night Circus will deliver. Not surprisingly, Dale proves to be the perfect narrator for the novel, bringing Morgenstern's elegantly imagined world to life, coloring characters with unique voices, tones, and attitudes, enveloping listeners in the melodic sounds of whimsy.
And for those of you who have always had an inkling that Harry Potter really could be real, prepare to find yourself waiting for the sudden appearance of black-and-white tents, an elaborate clock, and a faint breeze carrying the hint of caramel on its back.
Thoughts from other bookworms:
books i done read
Thanks to the Anne Arundel County Public Library, as always, for continuing to stock amazing - and current! - audiobooks for my listening pleasure.
The Night Circus | Erin Morgenstern, nar. Jim Dale | Random House Audio | 978-0-307-93890-9 | $45.00 Compact Disc | 11 discs, 13 hrs 39 min | September 2011 | Buy from an independent bookstore near you