Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is dark and dreamy

I have this friend at my job and we talk books all the time and except for her unhealthy obsession with all that is “Gone With the Wind” and never reading any “Harry Potter” our tastes are pretty similar.  She turned me onto Kristin Hannah’s “Firefly”, Sue Monk Kidd’s “Secret Life of Bees” and Lisa Unger’s “Black Out.”  I have in turn given her some great titles to enjoy like the “Book Thief” by Markus Zusak and “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman.  She has consistently resisted Potter. It is one of my favorite parts of the day when I visit her office to gab about books.  We both belong to bookbrowse.com.  I get their monthly newsletter but she is a paid member.  One of the benefits of paid membership is on occasion a member can sign up to receive an advance reader addition of a new novel, for free.  Yes, I said for free!  How cool is that?  It is by way of this service that “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern came into my life. 
Erin Morgenstern
I was doing my daily rounds when I stopped by her office and she excitedly told me about this book she KNEW was right up my alley.  It was all about magic and illusions and make believe.  She said she read it faster because she wanted to get it to me so we could talk about it.  She doesn’t read fantasy.  She sticks with more reality based fiction.  She reads much more classic style literature than I do so she was tickled that she liked this book so much.  It is a fantasy but it is a fantasy in the style of Charles Dickens or the Brontes.  It is dark, deep, and confusing.  It wraps you up in a web of illusion and magic and for me, never let’s go.  This is a richly drawn novel full of word pictures and textural descriptions. I would love to say more but I am afraid too much description will give some of the mystery away. Suffice it to say I could touch, taste, smell and hear her tale. Even at the end when Ms. Morgenstern wraps it all up in black and white striped paper I am still wondering who won.

This story is about the great experiment Nurture versus Nature.   Two old guys who have been debating the argument for more years than 2 or 3 people have lifetimes have picked another round of guinea pigs.  They are children when they are chosen.  One child has no particular talent in magic but he has the drive to survive.  The other child is full of magic and longs for someone to love her.  They are told from the early ages of 6 and 8 they have been entered into a game.  They can’t know who their opponent is nor are they told how the victor is determined.  The rules are obscure.  Even the order of play is unclear.  The game will make itself clear once they are officially on the playing field.
You guessed it.  The playing field is the circus.  Not your ordinary Ringling Brothers either.  One day the field outside of town is empty and then, overnight without fanfare or announcement, the field is filled with tents.  Not the brightly colored tents you are used to seeing but striking black and white striped tents.  This circus doesn’t have a midway of carnies trying to convince you to knock down the milk bottles or shoot the ducks.  This circus is filled with living statues, mystical gardens of ice and paper.

A clock that not only shows the hours but glows and fades with the day and night.  The circus is open only during the hours of sundown and dawn.  It is a magical place that is never the same.  No matter how many times you visit, there will always be something you haven’t seen before. 
It is here the two opponents will compete.  Is it the illusionist, Marco who will carry the day?  Maybe Celia, the magician that will declare victory.  For most of the story I am not even sure the game has started.  Then someone made mention of a move and I knew the whole circus and its creation was the game.  What can one do with imagination and determination?  What kind of world does illusion create?  Where does the magic end and reality start?
This story is confusing, jumping back and forth in timeline, between locations, and point of view.  Celia and Marco might be the combatants but I cannot say they are really the main characters because one chapter belongs to the clock maker.  Another chapter goes to the young man, Bailey, who fell in love with the circus when he was eight.  Then twins become the storytellers. Depending on the chapter the main character could be almost anyone.  This is also a love story between the Marco and Celia.  Their lives are so entwined they begin creating for the other and through these creations they know each other in a way no other could.  When they discover how the victor will be chosen they are both determined to beat the game and save each other.
My friend thinks the circus is a metaphor for dreams.  I think it is more real than that.  Aren’t we all caught up in the game of life?  Isn’t it our minds that create the shape of our reality?
My friend and I both think you should read “The Night Circus”.  It goes on sale September 13th, of course.

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