“You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.”Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
The Night Circus follows a challenge between two magicians. Prospero the Enchanter’s daughter, Celia, arrives one night on his doorstep, exhibiting impressive magical talents and a knack for fixing things. Impressed by his daughter, Prospero summons his old competitor, demanding a challenge between his daughter and any champion of his competitor’s choosing. The competitor – a man who occasionally goes by Alexander – chooses a young boy who eventually goes by the name of Marco. Years pass and Prospero and Alexander begin to determine the venue for the challenge, eventually settling on a circus that appears only at night called Le Cirque des Rêves (the circus of dreams). As the challenge progresses and Celia and Marco get to know each other through their magical feats, they begin an affair that threatens to tear the whole competition apart. As their affair progresses, the challenge grows more dangerous as the outcome of the competition is one that neither of them could bear to witness.
Initially, I was rather confused by this book. The book is purposefully vague about many of the rules of the challenge and in another book, this is something that would’ve gotten on my nerves. However, in this book, it is an extraordinary sense of irony. The reader knows only a little more than the characters in the book and therefore the readers are completely at the whim of the author. This provides a much more startling impact as the rules of the challenge are explained to the characters and their responses become the reader’s responses as well. Many of the characters are written in conjunction to their part in the circus. They aren’t made out to be separate entities, but rather individual parts of a working whole. This serves to show that Celia and Marco’s challenge doesn’t just impact them, but rather a whole host of people as well. This is also the kind of story where the individual parts matter. The point of view throughout the story shifts quite a bit and each bit of information that the characters find out eventually creates the sense of the book as a whole. It became rather interesting to read because to understand the individual characters and their stories was vital to understanding the circus as a whole.
In terms of the structure of the book, the chapters alternated between the new tents that Celia and Marcus erected and the story. The chapters traveled through time and if you weren’t paying attention to the time stamps at the beginning of each chapter, the story could get a little confusing. It’s one of those structures that eventually come together at the climax of the story but it requires a bit of meticulous attention. This doesn’t take away from the book, it only mirrors the circus in a way that strengthens the story. The prose was also fantastic, painting extremely vivid pictures and including imagery that practically transported you to the circus itself. Even if the story itself isn’t the kind of story you’re interested in, the writing style itself would be enough to convince you that this book is worth the read.
The final thing I wanted to discuss is the rampant theme of self-sacrifice that runs throughout the book. The entire story focuses on two people who essentially gave up a chance at a happy life together in order to maintain the livelihood of the people that they came to care about. This theme is probably the most important part of the story. Without it, the motivations of the characters become foggy and the plotline becomes convoluted. It almost seems like while these two characters were forced into a life that they didn’t want, they came to embrace it because they understood the repercussions if they didn’t. However, the best part of these two characters is that they didn’t want anything in return for their sacrifices. They were simply content to make sure that the people they loved were happy and cared for. Eventually, when they decided they wanted to be together, they decided to abandon the challenge that brought them together and refuse the only parental figures they had in their lives. No matter what they did, they always lost someone.
Overall, this is a beautiful read. It definitely takes a minute to get into the book and grow accustomed to the confusing narrative structure, but once you understand it, the story envelops you. The characters are enchanting and discerning their motivations adds to the enjoyment of the story. It’s a beautiful story of not just romantic love, but the love that one has for others and how that transcends a person’s own wants and desires. A truly beautiful read.