By Amanda DelaCruz

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

516 pages | Anchor Books, July 3, 2012 |
Mystery | Fantasy | Action/Adventure | Romance | Magic

I don't know anyone who reads more books than I do. A great one can make me stay up late into the night and finish it in one sitting. It's why I don't mind long commutes, cancelled plans, or a rainy weekend.

I devour books, but this is a novel that made me read slowly.

 

I tried to savour every paragraph and take in every moment, and when I finished, I read it again. 

When I read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern I found myself surprised to love the slow but enchanting storyline, and atmospheric, almost dream-like language. I mostly enjoy novels that are more straightforward in their writing style, where every word makes an impact. I tend not to care for flowery, languid descriptions. The descriptions here were mostly concerning the circus itself, and the acts of "magic" that took place, but the thoughts and words of the characters themselves were less descriptive and more evocative. 

Beyond the beauty of the circus, there is the main, underlying story of Celia and Marco - illusionists raised to be rivals in a competition that neither of them fully understand. They are irrevocably bound to both each other and the circus. Even before they meet they influence the other, with every act motivating and inspiring them to create grander and grander illusions that inspire wonder and awe in all who witness them.  As a trained artist myself,

I know this feeling - where you see something so beautiful that now you are changed and you can't look at certain things the same way again. It can only make you better, because you know better exists. 

A concept that appears early on in the novel is the question on whether greatness is born or made - whether innate ability or simply one's willingness to learn can create a better outcome in the end. Celia is a magician's daughter and is taught how to harness her natural skill on an almost subconscious level, while Marco is rescued from an orphanage and learns almost everything he knows alone and mostly from books mixed with trial and error. They are both birds amongst fish wearing feathers. 

There was turmoil, weariness, a constant struggle - 

I could almost feel the words, as if I could see myself saying them, feeling their effect as if I was one of the characters.

There were a lot of passages on the idea of control and discipline, things that I value highly. Passages on how things can be both beautiful and devastating. Passages on endurance, on bindings and responsibility, on the ties that hold us together and connect us.

"Our instructors do not understand how it is - to be bound to someone in such a way...It is never simple. The other person becomes how you define your life, how you define yourself. They become as necessary as breathing. Then they expect the victor to continue on without that...They would be whole, but not complete." 

This novel comes alive in a way I have rarely seen. Each tent created by Marco or Celia is quietly beautiful and meaningful. There is a ship made of books with its sails of overlapping pages, a labyrinth, a wishing tree, an ice garden,  a maze made up of clouds. This is a description of one of the countless tents, The Pool of Tears:

“The sign outside this tent is accompanied by a small box full of smooth black stones. The text instructs you to take one with you as you enter. Inside, the tent is dark, the ceiling covered with open black umbrellas, the curving handles hanging down like icicles. In the center of the room there is a pool. A pond enclosed within a black stone wall that is surrounded by white gravel. The air carries the salty tinge of the ocean. You walk over to the edge to look inside. The gravel crunches beneath your feet. It is shallow, but it is glowing. A shimmering, shifting light cascades up through the surface of the water. A soft radiance, enough to illuminate the pool and the stones that sit at the bottom. Hundreds of stones, each identical to the one you hold in your hand. The light beneath filters through the spaces between the stones. Reflections ripple around the room, making it appear as though the entire tent is underwater. You sit on the wall, turning your black stone over and over in your fingers. The stillness of the tent becomes a quiet melancholy. Memories begin to creep forward from hidden corners of your mind. Passing disappointments. Lost chances and lost causes. Heartbreaks and pain and desolate, horrible loneliness. Sorrows you thought long forgotten mingle with still-fresh wounds. The stone feels heavier in your hand. When you drop it in the pool to join the rest of the stones, you feel lighter. As though you have released something more than a smooth polished piece of rock.” 

This novel spoke to me on so many levels. I'm really drawn to the struggle of responsibility - of making the hard choice, the right choice.  It is something that we come across daily and Celia really personified it for me. 

For some readers I feel that the novel may start off too slow and may discourage them from continuing, if you're one of these people, keep reading! It's worth it. The rights to adapt the book were bought in 2011, and I think it will be very hard to live up to the vivid imagery that already exists in my mind. 

"Someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound.

You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them. Who knows what they might do with it because of your words..."

 

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