Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


This is not ordinarily a book that I would have chosen, but a friend handed it to me saying, ‘you must read this.’  The Night Circus is a mysterious, magical book about ‘a thing,’ Le Cirque de Reves. It pops up in different places, and rumbles around the world, entertaining its visitors and reveurs. At the same time it is the stage of a complicated and drawn-out duel between two magicians.

The Night Circus is set around the turn of the twentieth century, a time of great revolution in technology and possibility, and this fits well as the setting for the book.  The story spans a 30 year period, and flits backwards and forwards, requiring the reader to have their wits about them.  Chapters are short, in contrast to the feel of the book.  The chapter headings are a delight, as are the second person intersections of the description of the circus.  It is not a linear book, but this fits well with the magical theme and elements.

Le Cirque de Reves is black and white, with light and shadow, love and hate, hope and fear.  It is a truly fantastical place, where magicians work to create the impression of mere illusions.  The prose is descriptive heaven, and Morgenstern’s writing is as captivating as the scenes that she creates:  rich, lush and evocative. Her sense of place, of setting, of costume, of atmosphere is wonderful – and you can really conjure this extraordinary circus.

The Night Circus is heavy on description and the plot is slow to unfurl, as time seems to get suspended in the circus.  I was not sure if I wanted her to hurry up, or not.  I loved the writing, so it was no hardship for me to roll with it, but a less patient reader may not enjoy being held in descriptive writing. The plot seems to advance through the development of the circus, and you know that there is a duel (established near the beginning of the book), but for a long time, the duellers do not know the game.  The engine of the book is then this mystery about the circus, and it is when the characters are explicitly involved in it, that the book takes off.  Morgenstern’s characterisation is good, but they  develop later on in the book, when some readers might have given up.  The roll of characters, with many different viewpoints, is an almost confusing number, so I half longed for a roll-call.  They take their time to step forward from the shadows, as it is only near the climax of the book that they seem to cross paths and this is where the book gathers pace… just at the time you would rather it did not have to end.

I finished the book wishing that I could have visited such a circus, and realising that perhaps I had already. Overall, a quite beguiling and magical read.  I would recommend it.



I thought it was time I wrote about progress on my WIP.  I’ve been chipping away, still working with the snowflake method.  I really enjoyed spending time with each of the main characters, and I feel like I have some ‘real’ people standing before me; I’ve particularly enjoyed searching through google images until I’ve found a likeness that allows me to really see them.  In creating back stories, and a full CV, I have a sense that the characters will show me the way when I put them into my setting.

With these fleshy characters in mind, I’ve gone back to the synopsis, and have been expanding this into a full outline.  Because my novel is historical, with some ‘real’ events, I’ve been going back to these source documents and plugging them into the story.  A timeline is emerging…  A structure is emerging.

The main takeaway from The Literary Adventure is the question of what is driving the story.  The plot engine.  The ‘what is it that is going to keep my reader turning each page.’  Well, there was a bit of a moment yesterday when I realised that I was trying to write the whole thing from the wrong perspective.  The fog around this ‘what-if’ has been swirling for a couple of months, and yesterday, it lifted.  I’ve been missing the bleeding obvious!  Eureka! The story remains the same, the characters are the same, but it’s like the whole novel has shifted around 90 degrees, and I can now see the point.  The hook.  The raison d’être.  Bloody good job, you might add, because if you didn’t, there was no hope of a reader doing so!

Simply put, I am going to explain why a series of events happened.  In history, this man has been blamed and accused of mis-management of the crisis that happened in 1730-1731, but there are always different truths.  I just need to channel a 42-year-old man who was born in the 1690s, in Lanzarote.  It’s a much more interesting story than the one that I was trying to create, about a protagonist that I couldn’t quite work out.  She’ll still be there, but in softer focus.

I’ve been procrastinating about getting a set of documents translated (I had a hysterical couple of afternoons with GoogleTranslate last week, painfully slow at one level, but very amusing.  It was like a reverse of Manuel from Faulty Towers), but I think I’m going to have to get on with it.  I also have determined, again, to learn Spanish.  If I’d done something about it 10 years ago, I could be fluent, and if I do nothing for another year, I’m going to be a year further away from the fluency I could be (are you still with me?).  An advert has appeared in the local magazine, so Graduate Tutor George is going to hear from me.  I wonder how he is with 18th century manuscripts?

I’m enjoying this process so much – I’ve been scared about it for so long, and it’s served no purpose.  But that’s a whole other blog…