book reviews by Althea

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern *****

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I wasn’t really ever one of those children who wanted to run away with the circus… but this book made me want to run away with the circus.

I didn’t actually think I’d like this book; it was a book club selection. I’m not sure why I was predisposed against it… but it doesn’t matter, because Morgenstern made quick work of those doubts!
I read this book till I fell asleep, then woke up at some absurdly early hour of the morning (after some lovely, inspired dreams), and finished it before going back to sleep.

Two children are trained by master magicians to participate in a vaguely defined contest of magic. What are the goals? How long will it last? On what criteria will it be judged? All they both know is the venue of the contest: a traveling circus. As boy and girl grow to man and woman, and grow in their powers, they create experiential, immersive, truly magical art in this circus that changes the lives of both the performers and the audience members of the Cirque du Reves.

The writing is gorgeously evocative.
While the format of the story is reminiscent of a fable, the people in it are real and believable (especially the clockmaker). While it is strongly romantic, it’s not simple or black-and-white. (Well, the circus tents may be black-and-white, but the ethical issues brought up are not.) Morgenstern perfectly creates otherworldly beauty that might – just might – be underlaid with horror.

In a completely random, and surely unintentional occurrence, reading this book brought me back to the art installations by lalalandia, where they would take over a house and create a different art environment in each room… water, smoke, sand, music…

But mostly, I wanted to just wrap a scarlet scarf over my black overcoat, and go to find the circus…


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