Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Here it is folks, the review I've been alluding to for a few days now. You already know I LOVED The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and  this novel has been a hype book since well before publication. In my humble, gushy opinion, this is one of those novels that's completely worth the hype.

First, the story in all its magical wonderfulness:

Celia Bowen is the daughter of a famous, very showy magician who goes by the stage name, "Prospero." His real name is Hector Bowen. While Hector exists under the guise that he's only an illusionist, a magician who uses tricks of mirrors and slights of hand, he really does magic.  His nemesis, friend, and fellow magician, Alexander -- a mysterious man in a grey suit -- thinks it dangerous to so openly show off magical abilities, even if the audiences think Prospero is only a performer like any other.

Here begins the challenge. Hector knows his daughter Celia has innate magical abilities and challenges Alexander to train a student of his own choosing to compete in an ongoing magical duel. What comes of the challenge is The Night Circus, a living arena for the two to play out their feats of magic. No two students could be more different in their training and upbringing, and as the old saying goes, "Opposites attract."

There are so many things I loved about this novel, but to begin, the plot structure and the pacing are exquisite. The book is split into five sections: Primordium, Illumination, Intersections, Incendiary, and Divination. Within those sections are short chapters from various characters' points of view. Interspersed between some of the chapters are short asides that the describe the circus as if the reader is a circus patron walking through it and experiencing it for the first time.

Given this delicate, very detailed structure, the plot unfolds quite slowly, with a great deal of care and a ton of vivid detail about the circus and its inhabitants. I've seen the comparisons already (in structure, not story) to Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. I think it's a fair comparison. The experiences of both were pleasurable and comparable for me as a reader who pays a great deal of attention to structural elements. It had to have taken Morgenstern a lot of time and an admirable amount of effort to put the twists and turns of this novel together. Additionally, by providing a solid foundation for the characters and their upbringing and training in magic, as well as the planning of the circus before it begins to tour, I found the characters and their motivations all that much more believable. It felt like a fully realized society of performers.

Beyond the novel's structure, the detail in the writing is just stunning. I felt as if I was experiencing the look and feel of The Night Circus. I could imagine the tents, each of the acts, the bonfire that serves as the heart of the circus, the food on sale to the patrons, the way the various acts dressed and conducted themselves. Hardly ever do I read a novel that makes me feel so thoroughly immersed in the fictional world.

It's only right that I give you a little taste of this novel! I really liked one of the early chapters titled, "Horology" (the study of the measurement of time or the art of making clocks and watches). A dreamy, surreal clock is a centerpiece of The Night Circus and reading about it's appearance from the maker's point of view was just beautiful:
The face of the clock becomes a darker grey, and then black, with twinkling stars where the numbers had been previously. The body of the clock, which has been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is now entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower that paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played.
Seeeee???? Detail can be tedious at times, but this is the kind of detail I love. Detail that makes the wheels in my head turn and takes me away to some place far outside my own experience.

This is my first book for Carl's RIP VI challenge, and I cannot think of a worthier novel to epitomize this cozy, magical, wonderful transition to autumn that I feel every year. To have a book mesh so nicely with my own mindset and reading wishes during this time of year was great, and I feel certain The Night Circus will earn a re-read in the next few years. Such is always my highest compliment to any book, and this one is highly deserving.

Snuggle -- Skewer

Pub. Date: September 13, 2011
Publisher: Doubleday
Format: pre-publication paperback
Source: The wonderful folks at Doubleday provided an ARC.

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