The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn
As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a modern fictional novel set in the past that I’ve enjoyed so much. This book is magical and dazzling, full of pure imagination.
The first thing you notice when reading is how richly everything is described in not too many words. All the colours are gleaming and fully saturated. Brilliant emerald dresses, fiery deep red hair. You can taste the food; cinnamon spiced cider, chocolate mice, salty oysters, caramel popcorn. You mull it around your mouth and think, yes, I would rather fancy a hot chocolate right now. Even the things you wouldn’t normally like to taste sound delicious. I particularly admired the use of language, simple and evocative but nevertheless allowing the reader to glimpse so much detail and richness.
While reading I felt that the descriptions alone could go on and on forever, always twisting around me, enveloping me in the atmosphere of the circus. I wouldn’t care if there was a story with an ending or not. I just want to keep smelling, feeling, tasting and touching these extraordinary things. It’s escapism at its best, but that would be doing a disservice to the novel which does have a good plot too.
I think that one of the novel’s flaws (if you can call it that) is that the circus surroundings are so enticing they leave you unable to care much for the protagonists. The characters are written well, but particularly at the beginning I didn’t care about them that much. It takes a while for the direction of the plot to become apparent and by that time I had immersed myself in the daily goings on of the circus and the unique skills of each performer – wanting to explore each tent myself in full detail rather than progressing with the plot. However, at the end I was glad of the path Erin Morgenstern was leading me on. Every gesture is heavy and laden with meaning. Nothing is as simple as it appears and the story comes to a very satisfying conclusion.
The book started making me think about the possibilities of travelling the world with a constant (e.g. in this case the circus) in place. You would never feel alone or homesick. You take your home (whether you see home as the company or a person, smell, particular food, or beloved item) with you and still be open to all the opportunities and beauties of new things around you. It enables you to go on a voyage of discovery without worries or cares. Regardless of whether we are able to physically travel or not, the book’s lesson is clear. The circus is inside each and every one of us – it’s our imagination and we should let it loose.
Have you read The Night Circus? What did you think of it? Did you engage with the characters?