Several people at various libraries I have been employed at, and my sister, recommended this book to me. A few told me to read the print version and many told me that the audio book version was very good. But all of these conversations about The Night Circus (save the one with my sister) had one thing in common: the book was very good but also quite confusing. That meant that I was somewhat apprehensive about picking it up. But, to be quite honest, I shouldn’t have been.
The Night Circus is an amazing novel and not the least bit confusing. Well, okay, there’s one part near the beginning that is confusing, but I’m pretty sure it’s meant to be — so it doesn’t count. I believe the reason people found it confusing is because the stories contained in the novel are both overlapping and not told in a linear way. Each chapter jumps around from character to character and time period to time period. I found I didn’t mind if I lost track of what year the chapter was taking place, because in the end I always figured it out.
Because I found Bailey’s story to be the most interesting, I did make a point of paying attention to the years he was mentioned, so that when it was used, I knew I was getting a Bailey chapter. And it was the same with Poppet and Widget. This proved a pretty useful tactic, until near the end of the book when it no longer mattered, as the stories all came together (in space and time).
But that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the rest of the characters and stories, I did. From the founders of the circus to the players in the game to the minor characters who Morgenstern developed with obvious care and love. They were all written in such a way that they came alive to me whenever I was listening (and I did 100% of the listening while in my car, usually driving). Not to mention the fact that Jim Dale voiced each and every character is a truly marvelous way. If I was inclined to listen to the Harry Potter books (I’m not), his versions would be at the top of my list.
The central story of The Night Circus is not so much about the circus as it is a game of magic. We follow the lives of two young magicians, Celia and Marco, as they grow up and into themselves — and we follow them on their quest for freedom. But, as you can tell, they are not the only characters in this novel. There are many, most of which I won’t have time to mention. But, by far and away, the most important character — one that appears in every single chapter, save the beginning few, is the circus itself.
The Night Circus, to me, combines things I never knew I needed — magic and the surrealism that you rarely find outside of a Haruki Murakami novel. His novels are very, very different from Morgenstern’s, but the world she creates (late 1800s-1900s) is as modern and real as any of Murakami’s. The Night Circus is fantasy, but it is also filled with shades of reality. There were times when I forgot the novel wasn’t set in the modern world — that is how good her writing is.
I cannot recommend this book enough; whether you choose to read or listen to it. It’s an easy book to love, but only because Morgenstern has given us characters who are if not always likable, incredibly interesting. I went through periods in the book where I didn’t like certain characters only to find that I liked them a few chapters later. Never has a (non urban-fantasy) book about magic (geared at adults) enthralled me so entirely. I couldn’t wait to finish it, only to be sad that it was over.
The Night Circus is about a circus — but not any circus you’ve been to. This circus is alive and it’s inextricably bound to the people who created it and run it. The Night Circus is about love, live and magic. And if you haven’t read it, you need to.