"The circus arrives without warning..."
It is a place of dreams, all in black and white, with spots of red on certain customers. In this circus, you cann watch a trapeze act that defies gravity, enter into a tent of stories, watch kittens jump through hoops, make wishes on wells, have your fortune read and more. It is opened from sunset to sunrise and only stays a few weeks before packing and changing location. Maybe it will come back to your town, but maybe it won't.
The Night Circus is a beautiful book about a whole cast of characters. We have Celia, the magical protege; Marco, the studious student; Tsukiko, the contortionist; Bailey, the dreamer; Herr, the clockmaker; Poppet and Widget, the eccentric twins; Chandresh, the master; Tara, the one who saw too much; and many more. They all work in a magical circus doing various activities, from performing to creating tents to handing out food.
What makes this circus so magical is that inside, unbeknownst to anyone except for the players, lies a game. The rules are vague, the boundaries are flimsy and not even the participants really understand what's going on.
"I have never fully grasped the rules of the game, so I am following my instincts instead."
I would say how the game works is exactly how this book was written. The language Morgenstern uses is beautiful and poetic, but very often it was hard to imagine exactly what she meant because she constantly keeps her reader in mystery. This is done on purpose to create an atmosphere that could perfectly mimic the circus. Although I loved how atmospheric this book was, sometimes not understanding the game and the temporal displacement of the novel were a bit too much. There desperation of the characters was never properly conveyed to the reader, but we were told often of how one of the players was exhausted/on the brink of a meltdown, etc. I never saw these meltdowns or complaints. I never felt them.
As the game progresses and more and more lives are at stake, I could never really feel how on edge everything was. There were very few moments when the circus would have a ripple that would cause something drastic, and when these drastic things happened I felt the panic in the moment, but never the build up. Because the rules and stakes of the game were so vague, it was hard to feel any crescendo towards a climax.
The novel is full of beautiful imagery that gives a new name to originality:
"When she opens her eyes, they are standing on the quarterdeck of a ship in the middle of the ocean. Only the ship is made of books, its sails thousands of overlapping pages, and the sea it floats upon is dark black ink."
"Inside, the train is opulent, gilded, and warm. Most of the passenger cars are lined with thick patterned carpets, upholstered in velvets in burgundies and violets and creams, as though they have been dipped in a sunset, hovering at twilight and holding on to the colors before they fade to midnight and stars."
In a way, a lot of the creativity of this story reminded me of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Beautiful images, exciting prospects, interesting concepts. The writing is what really propelled the book from being a nice read to being an amazing one.
Overall, I would recommend this book for fans of beautiful writing, for fans of experimental writing and for those that like fairy tales. If you're the kind of reader who needs proper foreshadowing and likes to have concepts and situations thoroughly explained to them, this might not be a book for you. For me, however, this book was beautiful and possibly the type of book you could read and re-read, finding more and more hidden secrets within.