Friday, April 6, 2012

Contemporary Fiction: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is the debut novel from Erin Morgenstern and I got turned onto it thanks to the good people from Austin's own indie bookstore, BookPeople. It is a highly enjoyable read, rich in description, and reminded me of many fairy tales with larger than life characters and events that are beyond belief and make you curious to know more, and yet something about them makes you happy to know that you can close the book at any time and keep them from reaching out and making you a part of their creepy little world.

The Situation: Celia Bowen is born with the ability to do magic. And we're not talking just little card tricks or taking a rabbit out a hat. I mean she can stab a knife through her hand and then put her her hand back together. When someone drops a glass of wine, she can put the glass back together and put the wine back in it...thoroughly capturing it from the carpet or dress it was spilled on. She gets this ability from her father, who trains her as she grows up, and ends up being an attraction in The Night Circus. While the patrons just believe she is an ordinary magician as they marvel at what she can accomplish on the stage, she knows that the "tricks" she is doing are very very real. 

The Night Circus is only open from sunset to sunrise (hence the name) and is full of acts and attractions just as amazing as Celia herself. The circus travels around the world and everything within it is either black or white - from the tents, to the ground, to the way the employees dress.

The Problem: This circus that the patrons fall so in love with, is not just a circus. It is the venue for an epic duel that is going on between Celia and her opponent Marco. Here's the thing though: the battle really isn't even between them. It is between Celia's father, Hector, and Marco's teacher, the enigmatic Mr. A.H. But for the Hector and A.H, losing the battle would only really mean losing their pride and bragging rights...for Celia and Marco, losing the battle means losing their lives. Sure, Hector would lose a daughter, but as the novel goes on it becomes apparent that she is not his first concern.

Oh, and while Celia and Marco are dueling each other, other participants in the circus and some patrons are also affected...the two magician's are not the only ones whose lives are in danger.

Genre, Theme, History: I will go ahead and classify this as a fantasy. Like I mentioned before, to me it reads much like a fairy tale in that there are scenes that Morgenstern describes so beautifully that make me wish I was there, but at the same time I am really glad I am not. I guess like every circus, real or imagined, this one has that same slight element of creepiness to it that makes you want to hold your mother's hand the whole time you're there. And it takes place only at night too? Weird.

The novel is set around the turn of the 20th century, and mostly takes place in London and other parts of Europe, although the circus does also go to other continents. The novel also follows an American boy named Bailey and his encounters with the circus and some of its characters when it visits his hometown on the East Coast. What bothered me about this though (*literature major pet peeve alert*) is that while this is set roughly between 1890-1910ish, there is no mention, whatsoever, of any race issues, up to and including slavery. Now, I get it, I do...people are sick of reading about race issues...I know I am and I'm African American. And while I hate to be *that person* we can't just ignore them like they aren't a big part of our history, along with class issues, which were also strangely absent in this book. But it isn't just the absence of race issues that bothers me (wow, never thought I would be typing out that particular sentence), but just the general lack of diversity among Morgenstern's novel. Aside from the Japanese contortionist, I don't think any other character is anything other than white. Just saying it is kind of strange...and somewhat annoying.

My Verdict: I am certainly glad I read it and thought the descriptions of the actual circus were beyond exquisite, but overall I was slightly disappointed. Especially with the ending. With the setting of a circus that only happens at night, and is ultimately the venue of two dueling magicians, I felt like there was so much that could be done. And during the bulk of the novel, Morgenstern does a great deal with this setting. But with the ending things seemed to just unravel and I felt like the author was desperately reaching for a way to end this thing when the possibilities seemed endless and there were so many characters to play with. It could very well just be me, but I guess I just expected more.

Favorite Moment: When attending a dinner party, Celia is wearing a dress that takes on whatever color the person sitting next to her is wearing. She picks it when she cannot decide what else to wear. Haha! Brilliant...and I want one.

Favorite Characters: I adored Widget and Poppet, the fraternal boy and girl twins that were born the night the circus first opened. The each have a shock of red hair that stays hidden when they are performing with their trained kittens. And while Widget is able to read the past on people, Poppet can see the future in the stars.

Recommended Reading: This is the strangest thing, but I really want to recommend Bram Stoker's Dracula after reading this. I don't think for a second that this book could hold a candle to Stoker's classic, but I guess they both made me feel similar things. Obviously Dracula is much more terrifying, and I would never want to be involved in hunting him down. Even so, I feel like it would be a good follow-up...or I may be crazy. Who knows?

No comments: