The Night Circus primarily involves two storylines: Set in the late 1800s and spanning about thirty years, the book focuses on a magical competition between two old rivals and the construction of a mysterious, mind-bending circus that occurs only once darkness falls. These two stories eventually merge, making the circus the grand stage of a magical competition.
In the liner notes, Erin Morgenstern describes her stories as “fairy tales in one way or another,” and I think that is a very appropriate way to view The Night Circus. Morgenstern’s writing is descriptive and vivid, casting a sense of alluring enigma over the construction and proceedings of the circus. Even the meetings held to plan the venue are grand affairs. She creates a rich, detailed world filled with mysterious players and exhibitions, and it feels as though she is equally enamored with, and mystified by, the circus herself. The narrative is told entirely in third person, which I don’t always love, but in this case I think it works wonderfully for the story, keeping the reader guessing about the nature of the circus as much as any other patron that enters it.
I was engrossed in this story from the start, but I will say that one minor drawback is that it was a little confusing to keep the cast straight in the beginning. Characters are often referred to only by physical descriptors and several characters are introduced this way. Often I would read a new name, only to realize Morgensten was now giving a name to a character previously described. It was a bit confusing, but manageable, and once the characters were fully established, they held their uniqueness and each added their own layer to the story.
The Night Circus is magical realism at its best, often leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions rather than spelling out every little trick. The characters all felt very real yet aloof. They are plausible yet do not seem entirely on the same plane as the rest of us. It was easy to become invested in their stories, especially the two leads, Marco and Celia. There are also various descriptions of individual exhibits scattered throughout the book, which I enjoyed immensely. Morgenstern’s writing is imaginative and descriptive enough that the reader can picture the tents and rooms she describes, but still leaves enough ambiguity for each that they could be different for each reader.
This book flows lyrically and Morgenstern weaves a captivating tale. I found this book utterly mesmerizing and will most definitely be checking out her future work.