Review: The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus Erin Morgenstern review

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
Harvill Secker, 2011

The Night Circus has been a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, but it wasn’t until I was having a quick look through the shelves at my local library after finishing How to be both that the spine jumped out at me and I picked it up. I realised I didn’t actually know what the book was about – save for a circus – but the blurb doesn’t reveal much more than that either.

The Night Circus is a story of magic and love, one of mystery and intrigue, and one filled with beautiful images and elements of fairy tales. It centres on the Le Cirque de Rêves – the Circus of Dreams – which appears without warning in undisclosed locations around the world and only opens from dusk until dawn. There are tents with acrobats soaring at great heights with no nets, illusionists who perform feats we cannot comprehend, a garden made entirely of ice, and a bonfire with white flames. But the circus, for all its magic, serves a darker purpose than its visitors imagine. For Le Cirque de Rêves is the stage for a dangerous game which pits two young protégés, who have been trained since childhood for this very purpose, against each other.

Morgenstern is a great storyteller, weaving the intricate lines of the tale before bringing them together wonderfully. The act of reading the book almost took me back to reading as a child, when I’d get completely lost in a world so different from reality. There’s also an old-fashioned storytelling feel to the book, added to by the use of an omniscient narrator, which contributes to this feeling.

Also taking me back to reading as a child was the circus itself. In The Night Circus Morgenstern has created a magical circus that I long to be able to visit. And while the novel has a love story at its heart, for me it is the circus which takes centre stage. It’s enchanting, magical, and highly imaginative – the tents Morgenstern has created are marvellous and the descriptions throughout are wonderful. There are small, vivid details throughout the book – like candlelight catching in a glass or a particular smell – which instantly conjure an image or a scene, placing me in the novel. The book’s imagery has a cinematic feel too, from the vast tents and magical rooms to the feats performed by the magicians. A quick Google tells me that a film is in production. It’ll be interesting to see the book adapted for the screen, but there’s a magic between the pages of this book that I hope isn’t lost in the process.

Truly placing the reader in the book are small chapters throughout which take you around the circus or to a particular tent – we are told what we smell, what we touch, what we see. This technique is a wonderful addition that places you directly in the book and the circus itself, which adds to part of the book’s magic for me. Yet for all the wonder and magic at the circus, there’s a subtle, darker edge to it which is played out expertly.

The Night Circus feels a perfect read for this time of year when you can escape the dark and cold outside and get lost in the world of Le Cirque de Rêves. The book has been produced beautifully with a visually stunning cover which contains hints as to what’s inside the book, black edged pages, and a red ribbon bookmark, which is a great touch. The circus is enigmatic and charming, and perhaps my feelings for the setting overshadow my impression of the book as a whole, but it’s hard to separate them. The story of The Night Circus is intriguing and I was hooked from the first pages, but I think it’s the circus which is the highlight of the book for me.

Have you read The Night Circus? What did you think?


20 thoughts on “Review: The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

  1. I have read it! And I told my friend, “the book smells good.” She took me literally and picked the book up to sniff it. I laughed. Her descriptions are delicious. You could smell the food under the big top. You could visualize it. I love love loved the details. I was not happy with the conflict in the book between our two main characters. It was a little jumpy for me but over all I recommend it to everyone. Great review!!! You really nailed the high points. Makes me want to reread this one 🙂

  2. I’m so glad you finally got to reading The Night Circus and experience the magic for yourself – and you picked the perfect time of year!

    Your review of The Night Circus is one of my favourites; you shared the plot beautifully and captured Erin Morgenstern’s storytelling so well. Oh, I’ve missed your reviews, Gemma (I know this isn’t your first since back to blogging, but one of the first I’ve read).

    Lastly, I’m with you on the circus being the highlight of the book as opposed to love story. I think it’ll be interesting to see how this novel translates into motion picture.

    • I’m glad! I’d highly recommend the book. I think that the setting is so wonderful that even if you don’t normally read books with magic you’d still enjoy it. I’d be interested to hear what you think of it if you do ever read it 🙂

  3. I loved The Night Circus! Reading your review makes me want to read it all over again. 🙂 It’s one of those fictional places that I would love to be able to visit it real life.

  4. I love this book! Reading your review makes me want to read it all over again. 🙂 The Night Circus is one of those fictional worlds that I wish I could visit in real life.

  5. I was captivated by beauty of the book itself and by the world in this book, but a little disappointed in the story. I suspect that I read it when there was too much of a buzz, and I plan to pay a second visit one day.

  6. Every time I see this I keep thinking it’s an Angela Carter book, I think I’m getting confused with The Magic Toyshop – that and it is quite a Carter-esc title.

    You’ve made this sound very interesting, I’m still not sure I want to read it, but I’m definitely intrigued .

  7. I’m so glad you enjoyed this book! I have heard so many great things, perhaps it’s time for me to dive in and find out for myself.

    Your review has certainly made me want to pick it up soon!


  8. Pingback: A Year in Books: 2014 | The Perfectionist Pen

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