A school book club necessitated me picking up The Night Circus, which I had heard of, but never felt particularly compelled to read. It all sounded a bit twee; an artfully designed black and white striped circus that only appears at night, two talented and gorgeous magicians trained by mysterious and nasty rivals and lots of eccentric and improbable people floating around doing eccentric and improbable things. A glance through also revealed a confusing myriad of different time periods and random sections written in the second person. I wasn’t sure it was going to work for me, but I plunged in anyway.
The basic plot of the novel hinges around a deal made between two powerful magicians, the mysterious Mr A H and Hector. Hector’s daughter Celia and Mr A H’s orphan protégée Marco are bound together as opponents in a challenge with no rules and no time limit. Neither Celia nor Marco know who their opponent is or when the challenge will begin, and they grow up being trained in the arts of magic and illusion with no idea how or when they will be called upon to use their skills. The game begins when The Night Circus is created; it will serve as the board for the players to move their pieces upon, showing off their abilities with more and more elaborate creations, building a legendary, mesmerizing circus that draws people from all over the world every night.
The circus itself is the main attraction of the novel; it is beautifully and atmospherically brought to life on the page, and the central idea of a circus that appears overnight and moves all over the world with no warning is brilliant. I loved the concept of subversion and danger in a game to the death being played behind the scenes of a pleasure ground. However, unfortunately, The Night Circus is a very inconsistent novel. Its moments of brilliance are undone by excessive amounts of extraneous detail that prevent the novel from becoming a coherent whole. Entire plot strands that introduced extra characters, time periods and locations felt unnecessary and bolted-on. The reason behind the competition was never fully explained and as such my interest began to wane towards the end as it became clear that there was not going to be anything in the way of a revelation that would justify the entire premise of the novel. It’s a shame really, because so many elements of the story were fantastic in their creativity. I felt that overall Erin Morgenstern had too many ideas and didn’t know when to stop; a more streamlined plot and character list would have made this a far more compelling and enjoyable novel. Apparently there is a film in the works; perhaps it will work better on screen than it does on the page.