Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

I just turned the final page of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and feel a bit as though I have woken from a dream.  The book is nothing short of, well, magical.  

Celia and Marco are unwittingly bound together in a mysterious competition while both very young.  They each are trained, Celia by her magician father and Marco by a phlegmatic man in a gray suit.  As the grow older, each becomes intricately involved with Le Cirque des Rêves.  The Circus of Dreams, which begins as the eccentric dream of a wealthy dreamer, becomes the stage for their contest.

Celia is the circus illusionist.  Marco presides over its logistical details from London, where he serves as the assistant to the circus proprietor.  They each use their talent for illusion and enchantment to make complex and beautiful attractions within the circus.  Morgenstern's descriptions of their work are as vivid as they are detailed.  It is easy to imagine the impossible before your eyes; and easy to understand why the circus attracts a cult-like following of rêveurs.  The circus does not take place as one show under a big top tent.  Rather, it is more of a fair.  There are dozens of tents, each filled with a ride or display that should be beyond imagination.  There are performances and experiences, sights and sounds that enchant even the reader.  Marco and Celia create and control each detail, continually working to out perform the other in the scope of their imagination.  While competing in this battle that neither fully understands until late in the story, they become star-crossed lovers.

Marco and Celia are the crux of the story, no doubt; it is from them that the circus stems and without them it would be impossible.  But part of the beauty of it all is it is not theirs alone.  There are dozens of other lives woven into their story.  Each character is as magnetizing as the last.  Morgenstern is intentional about telling each of their stories so the reader understands their importance to the greater story.  This makes the fate of the circus, of the contest, all the more vital.

I cannot really express the beauty of Morgenstern's words or her mastery of the storyline.  It is simply something you must experience for yourself.  I close the book feeling as though she has worked the same enchantments on me as Celia and Marco did on the visitors to the night circus.  I would love to step through the iron gates into the black and white circus and experience the astounding colors in the colorless world.  The rêveurs see the circus as irresistible and Morgenstern makes it easy to understand why.  Beyond the circus, though, her characters are beautifully complex and unique.  Her plot is creative and not formed from the same mold where so many novels find their birth.  Perhaps it is the author herself who best describes the type of story she offers:
"Stories have changed...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 least the ones worth something, in any case.  There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings.  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.  Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister's story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead.  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?...The heart of the tale and the ideas behind it are simple. Time has altered and condensed their nuances, made them more than story, greater than the sums of their parts. But that requires time. The truest tales require time and familiarity to become what they are." (The Night Circus, 377)
 Those line resonate with me.  At the heart of things, Morgenstern understands what makes a good story.  In our complex world, we are no longer looking for a simple story.  We would not believe it anyway.  The stories we connect with, though they may be magical, are not the fairy tales of the Grimm brothers.  We understand that life does not work that way, so we demand realism even in our fantasy.  We also are consistently guilty of rushing our stories.  We are a culture of instant gratification and want the full experience in the length of a feature film or a YouTube video.  Yet, as Morgenstern points out, the best stories require an investment, as with anything in life.  If you make the investment into her story, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Pages: 387
Date Finished: July 14, 2012

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