We had been hearing about the The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for sometime but somehow never managed to get around to reading it till now. For this we have to blame the blurb by Knopf Doubleday which showed up on the library site and which makes the book sound something like a racy thriller. The reviews which were mostly positive also somehow never managed to convey the brilliant atmospheric quality and lyrical nature of the book.
Two powerful magician/sorcerers have had a long and on going battle for centuries in which they pit their current protégés against each other in a contest to prove their capabilities and the superiority of the training imparted to them. Each contest has a different setting as agreed by the masters and this time around the venue is a mystical, nocturnal circus known as Le Cirque des Reves, which magically appears for an unannounced number of days at an unannounced venue. The contestants Marco and Celia are the essence of the circus and power the entire setup. Their expertise and talent displayed in the wondrous and magical exhibitions that are from time to time added to the circus. Erin Morgenstern describes these exhibits in poetic detail as she does the development of the relationship between the two contestants.
This is a book about a competition yet there is no rapid succession of bangs and bursts but a enchanting progression through the creativity of the protagonists. The detailed descriptions suck the reader into the magical black and white world of the circus with its maze of tents housing various exhibits and performances but the most spectacular are those created by the two contestants pitted against each other in a display of magical skill : an ice garden, a wishing tree, a labyrinth, a carousel of magical creatures and a pool of tears. Erin Morgenstern’s writing transports one to the extent that the reader can almost smell the smoke and caramel and palpably feel the excitement of the Reveurs, the group of people in black and white with a hint of red, passionately following the circus around the world.
Like the black and white of the circus, the book veers between the light of the main characters whose discovery of each other and the beauty of their creations are juxtaposed against the darkness of the respective masters with their obsessive self absorption hinting at an unsavoury outcome. The story moves gradually along with the contestants as they move from place to place and move on from competing with each other to creating for each other and finally to collaborating. Almost like two competing gardeners who fall in love with each other’s gardens and cannot help themselves from adding to the other’s creations. And the story unfolds like a slow wait for flowers to bloom as the sun rises as opposed to a time lapse bloom which passes by in a moment.
Some books defy description and no matter what one says, the feeling of reading the book, like the circus, can only be experienced.