Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Night Circus ~ Erin Morgenstern

I may have hinted at this last week, but I love Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus.  Seriously.  I love it in a even-though-you've-never-heard-of-her-and-her-novel-doesn't-come-out-for-two-and-a-half-months-you-should-still-preorder-it-now kind of way.

Since it's not coming out until September, I feel that a rough summary is necessary here: magic is real but it's not really magic-magic, more like manipulation.  It can be learned and it comes in different varieties.  Two masters have pledged their pupils to a challenge, the venue for which is a circus, Le Cirque des Rêves.  The circus arrives without warning, only opens at night, and is adorned only in white, black, and shades of grey.  It is exhibition of any and every kind and is controlled almost entirely by Celia and Marco, the two young magicians who eventually fall in love, further complicating their lives.

I want this circus to exist.  It's quiet and beautiful, where classic circuses are noisy and flashy.  It's full of life, despite it's lack of color.  It considers time and consequences and how destinies can be altered.

Morgenstern's writing is quiet and beautiful, unique without harshness.  The story is built of many very short chapters (something I normally dislike, preferring longer chapters) which, like the circus itself, manage to beguile you into staying up half the night, unsure of where the time has gone.  These chapters consist of snippets of life related to the circus, from the perspectives of all involved, in many locations.  Nothing seems extraneous and nothing is lacking.

I could go on and on, but I'll stick with discussing three elements I particularly enjoyed:

-The Murray twins' relationships.  Writers tend to view twins as tools without substance.  Look at Fred and George Weasley - they're loyal, comedic, lacking in depth, and identical to the core, more often present for purposes of comic relief than anything else.  You have evil twins, freakily connected twins, creepy twins, creepily cute twins, et cetera.  And then there are the Murray twins, who were born on the circus's opening night and grow up among the black-and-white striped tents.  Their love for one another is palpable and they are unique in themselves.  They are both gifted, yes, in ways that ordinary mortals are not, but this arises more from the circumstances of their birth than their twin-ness.  They are complete characters rather than plot devices, plus they charm kittens.  Literally.  Need I say more?

-Celia and Marco's relationship.  The novel is full of relationships, but their relationship is probably the most complex while at the highest risk of cliches.  Thankfully, Morgenstern manages to avoid cliches and create a beautiful, enchanting love complicated by their positions as opponents, in which each person's turn is a tribute to the other rather than an attack.  Though there is dramatic, Rome and Juliet-style, fatal element to their love, Morgenstern transcends this by introducing consequences and the consciousness of such.  These are mature lovers, not children, making their love all the more satisfying and believable.

-The novel continues outside of the novel.  For most books, this means stuff, i.e. fake wands and action figures and overactive merchandising departments.  What's so lovely about The Night Circus is how (at this point at least) it avoids all this.  The cover, for example, of my ARC guarantees unlimited admission and threatens exsanguination for anyone who attempts to sell it (the same punishment as for trespassing on circus grounds).  The book as an object becomes a part of the novel.  Also, a side project of Morgenstern's while she was writing the novel was painting an all black-and-white tarot card set which sounds just like the custom deck that the circus's fortune teller uses (view here).  These elements bring the novel to life, letting it burst from the page without cheapening it.  I've never seen the like and I really love that.

This is probably the best book I've read in a while, and I fully encourage anybody to read it, particularly those who enjoy the ordinary merged with the fantastic.  Because these are real people and real emotions, despite being set in a fanciful setting, and well worth the investment of time and emotion.

I kind of wish this was more of a critical book review, but it grabbed me so fully that I just absorbed the details and thought about little else, which is probably good because it means that the story didn't trip over the writing.  However, I like to think about the how as well as the what.  I guess I'll just have to read it again.  Darn.

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