The great illusionist Prospero has a daughter. When her mother dies, he binds her into a challenge, to pit her magic against another; a boy whose identity will remain secret for many years to come. After her father’s death, Celia applies to join the Night Circus as an illusionist. Initially laughed at for being a woman, she dazzles the proprietor with her manipulations, creating birds from inanimate objects and transforming the colours of her gown. She is hired on the spot. As the circus evolves, Celia learns that the game is afoot.
The imagery is stylish and I think the creation that is the circus is wonderful; one I would probably much prefer in a visual medium. I would love to see a film adaptation. The circus exists in monotone; black and white striped tents, exhibits in shades of grey lacking colour and the circus groupies, rêveurs, who dress in black with a hint of bright red about their person. The animals that grace the performances lack colour; zebras, ravens, white doves. Even the flames that light the candles are pure, bright white.
Celia Bowen sits at a desk surrounded by piles of books. She ran out of space for her library some time ago, but instead of making the room larger she has opted to let the books become the room. Piles of them function as tables, others hang suspended from the ceiling, along with large golden cages holding several live white doves.
Perhaps I am suffering from hype fatigue as I was left feeling rather disappointed after seeing so many rave reviews over the last year. I felt that Erin Morgenstern had a wonderful idea, put all her effort into building the circus through prose and forgot about the characters and plot. An overly long build-up left me feeling like nothing was ever going to happen and even when it did, the next chapter would jump back into describing the circus again.
The characters were a little two-dimensional, which if you like a fairy tale feel could work but I didn’t really care what happened to them. Celia is abused as a child by her father, having her fingers cut and broken in order for her to mend them. She doesn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with this and it didn’t impact on her relationship with him. She was just a pawn, a pawn that could do wonderful, magical things, but really lacking depth. I liked the lesser characters a bit more, especially the twins.
I did really enjoy the final 150 pages though. I might have absolutely loved the book were it a novella but at nearly 500 pages, it was a bit of a struggle. There are some lovely passages and some of the ideas at the end really deserved a bit more exploration but it didn’t quite work as a finished novel for me.
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