Release date: 15th September 2011, hardback
Genre: Fantasy / Historical Fantasy
Target audience: Adult
UK Publisher: Harville Secker
The Night Circus is a complex tale of love. It is a fantasy story but somehow that description doesn’t fit the book. It is rather a story of enchantment, of dazzle but not of illusion. And yet it is a story of dreams or the beauty of being a dreamer. So yes, complicated, and not at all easy to describe.
There is no single main character. The story follows multiple characters that are each tied to the whole. If there is a main character, I guess you might say it is the circus itself. But the circus is not independent of the characters and so they are at once all the major players in the story and simultaneously at mercy of the hand that fate deals.
At a push, I might say that the two main characters are Celia and Marco. Celia is the daughter of a famous illusionist. Except that his illusions are not illusions, Prospero has the power to enchant. Marco is a boy, plucked from an orphanage by the mysterious Mr A H. They are children in the early parts of the novel but they soon grow up and are shaped by their mentors and readied for a game. They are bound by magic to compete in game where they are ignorant of the rules or goal. They do not know how a winner will be decided and they do not know how to score points. For a long while, they do not even know that the other is their opponent.
And that is the extent to which I can describe the plot of the book. Now I’m going to attempt to describe my experience of reading it. There were times when I thought I would not finish it. The switching of viewpoints was most disorientating and the lack of connecting strongly to any character left me detached from the events. Yes, the circus is glorious, majestic even, but without a character to truly anchor the reader, you are floating through a sea of impressions. The other difficulty I had in suspending my disbelief was that the story switched forward and back through time, the chapters began in a very descriptive distant manner and the storyteller’s voice was very present. However, I think it was meant to be this way. The telling of the story deliberately mimicked the experience of dreaming. The circus is the Circus of Dreams. And so, we move chaotically through time. We see characters and don’t really know them.
This insight didn’t dawn on me until the very end of the book. I felt that there was a strange loss of grip on the story, as if it was disintegrating from my mind. It was the exact feeling that you get when you wake up and want to hold on to a dream but it slips from your mind anyway. I personally found it an unsatisfying feeling. The true lovers of this book will be the Dreamers who do not look to understand everything but simply enjoy the experience of being immersed in the circus and never want to know more. They will be happy to be a part of the exotic and the intangible and find that simply being there is enough to satisfy them for an eternity. I am not that reader but they are undoubtedly out there and will take The Night Circus book to the heart of their waking dreams.