The Night Circus: More than What Should Meet the Eye

By Danielle Matta

This month’s book is rated: en·chant·ing \in-ꞌchant-iŋ\ adj: to attract and move deeply, rouse to ecstatic admiration

Instead of just randomly picking out a book to review, I thought I would read something a little more relevant to the time frame of the month, which in this case is November — National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

If you are unaware of what NaNoWriMo is, it essentially is an online writing project offered to anyone who has ever thought of writing a novel. NaNoWriMo was created by a non-profit organization focused on promoting written expression. Sign up is free, and the rules are simple: Starting November 1st, you have until the 30th to write 50,000 words of an original novel. Sounds daunting, doesn’t it? But over the years NaNoWriMo has built an online community of writers consisting of those undiscovered and those published, all of whom support and encourage each other to carry out NaNo’s only goal: Just write. Regardless of whether you can reach the word limit and “win” NaNoWriMo, the program’s amazing message and promotion of writing is more important than the word count at the end.

And for most us (a.k.a me), NaNoWriMo kicks us off our lazy butts and forces us to try and at least write something. While my own word count this month is a personal best (which actually isn’t saying much), but hardly makes a dent in the 50,000 word goal, there are many participants who do actually achieve the amazing feat of writing novels in the span of a month—and then, even more spectacularly, get published. This list of Wrimo authors is expanding with every year, but one that has received a considerable amount of attention and praise is Erin Morgenstern for The Night Circus.

I have read quite a few odd books in my time, but The Night Circus most definitely takes the prize. It is a novel that surrounds a magical, traveling, nocturnal circus, with a central plot involving a competition between two magicians who may or may not be falling in love, set in the late 19th century. By that description, it sounds as though this very well could be a very elaborate way of deriving at a boy-meets-girl kind of story, but that’s not what the main focus is at all.

In fact, there hardly seems to be any focus in the novel. Although bound in no less than 500 pages, The Night Circus is segmented into incredibly brief chapters, each one honing into a completely separate perspective, time period, and situation than the last. This format, surprisingly, creates a very smooth read, jumping from one little snippet of an event to the next without consequence, although severing any emotional connections to any one character for the reader.

But where the novel lacks in character development and resonance, it makes up for wholly in exquisite imagery. There is something very wonderful about Morgenstern’s writing that is much unlike the norm for modern –day writers: it truly extenuates and gives appreciation to every sensory detail. Her style can only be described as elegant, taking on a more old-fashioned approach to attention to scenery and language. And while in most cases, too much emphasis on little details can get tedious to read, Morgenstern strategically chooses the parts where she exposes imagery, in a way so that it is not too overwhelming for the reader. Her descriptions of nights in Le Cirque de Rêves  (The Circus of Dreams) are merely to die-for: You cannot help but envision yourself walking through this wonderfully strange and mysterious circus, the smell of caramel and smoke in the air, just as the characters are.

Besides imagery, the plot is hard to describe. The two protagonists, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, equally likeable while also being equally under-developed, have extraordinary abilities to manipulate and transform anything into what they desire, and are pitted against each other by their mentors (and in Celia’s case, her own father) in an odd competition that they are not entirely sure of the rules. The competition’s “venue” is Le Cirque de Rêves, where they try to outdo the other with the most imaginative and astonishing acts. On top of this underlying story also exists the story of Bailey, a country boy who trespasses onto the circus grounds when he is a young and is never the same again, Herr Friedrick Thiessen, a German clockmaker who founds a society of obsessed patrons of the circus, and Chandresh Lefèvre, the eccentric proprietor of the circus who hosts world renowned “Midnight Dinners.” All of these stories start and stop randomly in the book’s chapters, slightly intertwining but just barely, making it very difficult and honestly confusing for the reader to discern the true plot.

Despite this seemingly huge flaw, the dream-like quality to the story, the strange mystery surrounding the character’s pasts, the bizarre scenarios that they find themselves in, and yes, the classic romanticism between Bowen and Alisdair seem to justify the erratic plot, and clearly I’m not the only one who thought so, considering The Night Circus is a #1 bestseller. And I would not be surprised if it was to become a future film project too, due to its very cinematic essence. What can I say? The Night Circus, in spite of lacking major essentials to good storytelling, is beautiful in a way that is unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and most simply put, is purely magical.