“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
A proclamation reinforced by their innovative digital campaign to pique the interest of readers with an interactive experience; to such an extent, that it could become the paradigm for future book campaigns, especially considering its recent award.
However, every facet of the publicity hinges on the quality of the fiction.
With a deliberate nod to Shakespeare, the reader is first introduced to Prospero’s daughter. In 1873 Celia Bowen is just five years old, and yet her Father, Hector, known by his Illusionist stage name of Prospero the Enchanter, binds her to a dual with his old adversary Mr A.H. Defined by his grey suit, Alexander agrees to the wager in which he must find his own student to compete against the gifted Celia. He plucks the nine-year old Marco from an orphanage, and so begins the prolonged years of training for them both. Hector consents to Alexander’s suggestion that the theatre producer Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre will be the Proprietor responsible for the creation of a suitable neutral venue in which the two illusionist students can do battle:
“Two schools of thought pitted against each other, working within the same environment.”
Touring the world by her scrupulous father’s side, Celia learns that all activities can be mastered by magic. This practical approach of forcing her to think on her feet, enables Celia to develop into a transcendent illusionist, referred to by herself as:
“Grounding, making the unbelievable, believable.”
Marco on the other hand is isolated with only volumes of magic books for company. His years of home study shapes an altogether contrasting illusionist, whose powers are finally revealed in the chapter: Le Bateleur. Now almost nineteen and with his own apartment near the British Museum in London, he chances upon the eighteen-year old tarot card reader Isobel Martin. What begins subtly, builds towards a dazzling climax. The meticulous design of the story beats and the pay-off they reveal, should be used in creative writing courses to understand how to perfect a scene; for this is a quintessential chapter in what can be achieved through visual expression.
One year later, in the chapter Associates and Conspirators the culinary desires of the much coveted Midnight Dinners at la maison of Chandresh Lefèvre will undoubtedly become iconic dinners of literature. Readers will crave an invitation to dine at one of these feasts, in the hope that an events company might recreate them. It is at one of these dinners, in the selected company of: Mme. Ana Padva (a retired Romanian ballerina); Ethan Barris (an architect); and the Burgess sisters, Tara and Lainie (business consultants) that Chandresh reveals the plans for his new project, Le Cirque des Rêves:
“We will destroy the presumptions and preconceived notions of what a circus is and make it something else entirely, something new.”
Unaware themselves as to how the venue will be used in the ensuing contest between Celia and Marco, they nevertheless create a spectacular setting. One which the reader should be allowed to experience for themselves, because:
“It is rare to discover places that are truly unique.”
As insisted by Chandresh, these fantastical tents become the epitome of the contortionist Tsukiko:
“Unusual yet beautiful. Provocative while remaining elegant.”
Accordingly the circus attracts a devoted following, known collectively as the rêveurs, attired in black with an emblematic dash of red. Their founder, Herr Friedrick Thiessen, is commissioned to design a manifestation for the circus which inadvertently symbolises his own beliefs about the nocturnal extravaganza:
“The circus is itself a complex illusion of illumination.”
In the midst of this, the reader is introduced to three more characters of note: Penelope Aislin Murray (nicknamed Poppet), her brother Winston Aidan Murray (nicknamed Widget); and Bailey. The latter of whom is only ten years old in 1897 when he enters their lives in Truth or Dare, but it is some years later before the reader glimpses his destiny hidden within the masterful chapter of subtext: Cartomancy.
With the players in place, and the venue set, Celia and Marco are free to express themselves to the amazement of their audience, and the reader. In chapters such as Tête-à-Tête where Marco demonstrates his prodigious abilities, and the reader fully comprehends the contest which lies in store, it leads to the paramount question of the entire novel:
“How can you checkmate a circus?”
The author whisks us towards the answer in the exhilarating denouement, with one of the best chapters in 21st century literature: Incendiary. Despite the ingenuity of what has preceded, nothing prepares the reader for this stunning cinematic moment.
The three-hundred and eighty-seven page novel is evenly divided into five parts of concise chapters. Which in turn alternate between character POV’s, world cities, and decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This non-linear construction is brilliantly executed by the author. In accordance to the thematic threads, the reader is never quite sure if the words are an illusion. There is such a deft hand of deception at work with chapters crafted to mean one thing on their own, but changing context when another is read, and again later on. This structural sleight of hand is breathtaking; each chapter a tarot of fiction.
Within this tight structure is an abundance of visionary creativity, that will charm the reader and leave them buzzing with images to infuse their own dreams. So much so that it would be an injustice to read it in sunshine. This is a novel for the night, preferably to be read by candlelight. A book that could have materialised from a quill, with an hypnotic gravitational pull of the reader’s eyes.
Some have drawn parallels with the book’s imminent success to that of well known bestsellers, which is naive and disrespectful. The Night Circus is unique, written by a unique voice, and consequently it will have its own unique success, incomparable to anything else.
It is by no means a YA novel either as others have erroneously alluded to. This is adult literary fiction of the highest order which will see it in contention for all the world’s major literary prizes.
Erin Morgenstern has created a mesmerising book, enriched by her aptitude for nuances and subtext. So expect The Night Circus to be just the first in many distinguished adult literary novels from this author.
“The circus itself has pushed the boundaries of what I dreamed was possible.”
So when reality gets too much; when a smile is hard to find; when there is an incessant ache to become lost in a sophisticated adult fairy tale; one can do no better than open these pages, and once again disappear into the magical world of The Night Circus.