(Blurb for The Night Circus from Goodreads) 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 des Rêves, 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, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
I wasn’t too sure what to expect when I picked up The Night Circus as it’s not something I will usually read. But I needn’t have worried because it’s a wonderful piece of work by Erin Morgenstern.
The story begins with a wager between two gentlemen: Hector Bowen or to use his stage name Prospero the Enchanter and the man in the grey suit who calls himself Alexander; although that’s not his real name. The competition itself is unclear but the terms are not, at least for Hector:
You would wager your own child?
The child is Celia. She arrives in Hector’s care aged six with a suicide note from her mother pinned to her coat. She also shares Hector’s innate ability for manipulation or real magic. Hector’s paternal instincts immediately take over:
You might be interesting
With the wager set, the man in the grey suit agrees to find a suitable opponent. The venue for the competition has yet to be decided, but Hector suggests someone who could stage the unusual: Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre.
The man in grey has less attachment to his competitor; a young orphan picked up from an unnamed home. The man doesn’t even wish to know the boy’s name, it’s not of interest or value.
Several years pass while the two competitors are taught the art of magic. Celia following her father around the world from theatre to theatre. The boy in a London townhouse surrounded by books, mostly alone but occasional excursions to museums or libraries.
Another five years elapse before we are introduced to Chandresh who is eyeing a theatrical review:
M. Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre continues to push the boundaries of the modern stage, dazzling his audiences with a spectacle that is almost transcendent
His problem is with the word almost; it’s not quite perfect.
A few months later, Chandresh gathers a select group for a dinner party in which he proposes a new project. A circus, but more than a circus, something utterly unique and he needs their help with the concept. And so begins the process of creating a mystical circus, from the design of costumes, arranging its layout to the selection of performers.
As a magician, Celia is drawn to the circus and after the perfect audition, she joins the performers. As for the other competitor, he now goes by the name of Marco and works in the background for Chandresh. Neither is aware of the other, although Marco believes that Celia is his opponent. Nor are they aware of the competition, its rules or what it entails…
I enjoyed the storyline. Building up from a simple wager between two magicians. Slowly, over time they manipulate and bring other characters into play to create the perfect playing field for the game to run its course.
I liked the mystery of the night circus, arriving as if by magic and leaving again without warning. It’s what drew me to the book in the first place.
There are so many interesting characters in this book. We have the two magicians; Prospero the Enchanter and the Man in the grey suit. There are Celia Bowen and Marco, the competitors in the game. There is a whole menagerie of characters associated with the circus; from performers such as the contortionist Tsukiko to the collaborators such as Mme. Padva. All are expertly drawn by the author. My particular favourite was Bailey, the young boy drawn to the circus after it arrived overnight in Concord Massachusetts.
Other lesser characters are also influential in the story. Such as Friedrick Thiessen the clockmaker who makes the wonderful timepiece that adorns the circus. He also writes articles about the circus which appear in German newspapers. Cultivating a group of followers among other circus aficionados. Followers who literally, follow the circus. Finding out from sources where it will stop next and arriving just in time for the evenings visit.
The plot itself flows wonderfully, it was a page-turner from start to finish.
There’s not at all much to dislike about this book. But there are times when the story jumps back and forth between time frames, which keeps you on your toes. This happens mostly when we visit Bailey in Massachusetts. The first time it happened, I had to re-check the dates on the chapter to confirm my suspicions. But as you go through the story, everything falls neatly into place.
This is a marvellous book, one that I would highly recommend.