Saturday 28 December 2019

#CBR11 Book 96: "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern

Page count: 502 pages
Audio book length: 13 hrs 40 mins
Rating: 4.5 stars

Official book description:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway - a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love - a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

I first read this book back in 2011, during Cannonball III. I revisited it a few years later, to see if it was as magical and unusual a reading experience as I remembered, and I still pretty much loved it. This autumn, trying to challenge myself and move outside my comfort zone, I joined a book club and despite my busy work schedule and my extreme tendency for introversion, I've actually managed to go to every meeting since September. This was the December book, and so I had the perfect excuse to re-read the novel once more, this time in audio. I found Jim Dale's narration to be very good, although I'm not sure he did all of the female characters' voices justice.

Re-reading and then discussing a book I love with near-strangers with different opinions was an interesting experience for me. From month to month, it varies how many show up to the meetings, and also how many who actively take part in the discussion. For December, turn-out was unusually high, and a lot of the members had feelings they wanted to share. To my dismay, many of them seemed not to like the book all that much, or to have serious problems with it. Since I still pretty much loved the book, that wasn't the easiest thing to hear.

So what were problems that fellow members of my book club had with this book? Quite a few people thought the romance between Marco and Celia to be either far too underdeveloped or wholly unnecessary. She didn't really make the reader see why exactly they were so drawn to one another, it all had a bit of a fated mate feel to it, which is an unpopular trope. A few thought Isobel, Marco's jilted girlfriend, would have been more interesting if she'd turned out to be villainous. Several were of the opinion that Morgenstern's writing was too unfocused and all over the place, and that she didn't really go into depth about any of the things that were truly interesting - like the inhabitants of the circus and how the strange magical stasis affected them.

There was agreement that the best bits of the book were the sections seen through Bailey and Herr Thiessen, through whose eyes we really understand more of what makes the circus just so fascinating and appealing. I also think that everyone felt that our doomed lovers had some pretty dreadful father figures in their lives, and that the physical and emotional abuse they both went through was awful.

As is always the case at our book club meetings, a good third of the attendees had either not read the book at all, and just showed up for the social aspect, or at least not finished the book before the meeting. No one seemed to have loved the book as much as I do, which I found very sad, as while I can see a lot of some people's complaints, I still very much love the book. I'm desperately sorry that the Cirque de Rêve is entirely fictional and not a place that can actually be visited.

Judging a book by its cover: My copy of this book has the UK cover and I bought this very edition because I love the cover so much. The white silhouettes on a stark black background. The little touches of red to help draw the eye. The gorgeous Victorian costumes the couple on the cover are wearing. The silver of the cover quotes. All the colours are the primary ones used in the Night Circus itself, so it feels entirely appropriate that only they are used in the cover design.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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