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The Night Circus: A Worthwhile Last Minute Summer Read

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Magic, Mystery and Romance in the 19th Century

The Night Circus: Book Review

The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternLiving in the northeast, it’s hard not to feel a bit weary as summer fades into fall and the daylight hours begin to diminish. The cool evenings are a subtle reminder that soon everything will be covered in snow again, and the smell of fall in the air signals the start of another school year. Calendars, which, for the last couple of months have displayed a substantial number of days marked “vacation,” are suddenly filled with obligations and activities once again.  And for me, and many others I’m sure, finding time to read becomes a bit more difficult.  Though I’m an avid reader year-round, there is something about summertime reading that is especially appealing.  Every August I find myself clinging to summer, scrambling to finish one more book before the leaves begin to change.

For those of you hoping to hang on to summer for a bit longer by getting lost in one more book, I recommend [amazonify]0385534639::text::::The Night Circus,[/amazonify] written by Erin Morgenstern. Just over 500 pages long, it’s a substantial read, but one that will have you excitedly turning pages and longing to step back into the circus once you’ve reached the end.

The novel, set in the late 19th century, is centered on Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) and the duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, happening within it.  The mysterious competition, inspired by an ancient disagreement between Celia’s father and Marco’s instructor, becomes significantly more complicated when the competitors fall in love, and even more complex when they realize that only one of them can survive the contest. But what’s at stake is not only one magician’s life; the fate of the entire circus, the performers within it, and the patrons that attend it—including Bailey, a young boy whose fascination with the circus draws him further in than most—ultimately lies in the outcome of the competition.

While the plot of the book is unique and captivating from the very beginning, other features of the novel make The Night Circus even more intriguing. One of the most notable elements of the novel is Morgenstern’s use of vivid imagery. Her descriptions of the circus are magnificent and imaginative, so detailed that you feel as if you are exploring the circus yourself. Readers can almost feel the chill emanating from the delicate frozen petals in the Ice Garden, and see the heat radiating from the enchanted white flames of the bonfire that keeps the circus alive. The extravagant clock that keeps time at the circus is impressively detailed yet still mysterious. Additionally, Morgenstern’s use of color playfully grabs and holds the reader’s attention. From the “infamously black-and-white” circus to the rêveurs, circus aficionados defined by the “single shock of red” they wear, every color throughout the novel seems to have a purpose.

Morgenstern’s writing style is also notable in that it cleverly matches the content and story told within the novel. Watching Celia and Marco’s story unfold in The Night Circus feels quite like watching a magic trick at the circus; in both situations, one’s fascination and interest is derived from the sense that exactly what’s going on cannot be completely understood. Similarly, Morgenstern’s style seems to mimic the chaotic and hazy circus environment as a whole. There are constantly multiple storylines unfolding while the central plot about Celia and Marco swirls and lingers like smoke, drifting in and out of focus. At times it loiters on the periphery of the novel, yet it never entirely disappears.

The use of perspective within the novel is impressive as well. Presenting the circus through the eyes of it members, as well as through the eyes of the rêveurs and patrons fascinated by it, the reader is simultaneously inside of and outside of the circus. Bailey’s character provides the unique perspective of someone who, like the reader, is “no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.” Weaving together the stories of various characters, some better developed than others, Morgenstern creates a network of stories that come together to create a detailed and intricate picture of the circus as a whole.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of The Night Circus is that while it is in many ways whimsical, it is essentially grounded in reality. There are some profound thoughts about life scattered throughout the book, and brief glimpses of wisdom about the past and the future, good and evil, and, of course, love. Morgenstern draws from the familiar to create an imaginative world and fictional characters that we as readers can still relate to and connect with. Within The Night Circus she creates an accessible escape from reality for her readers, yet leaves the door to the real world open just a crack.

A satisfying read, The Night Circus is comfortably paced and leaves you daydreaming even after you’ve read the last page. Filled with mystery, fantasy, love, magic, and suspense, this book has something that nearly anyone could find intriguing. Refreshingly unique, it’s a great way to wrap up your summer reading and escape to the circus as another hectic autumn sets in.

If you are craving more circus fiction after reading The Night Circus, check out Water For Elephants by Sarah Gruen and The Trapeze Artist by Will Davis.

Jessica Venezia is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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