A circus in black and white. Mysterious in its arrival and departure, impossible in its design, incredible in its performances, the circus travels the world in the late 1800’s creating wonder and even obsession in its wake. From the moment the gates open at sundown on the first evening and the ceremonial bonfire at the heart of the tents is lit for the very first time in shocking rainbow flames, anyone who enters to visit the magic is smitten. Once you have seen the circus, it is said, you can never forget it, and you will always long to go back. For some, this longing is not so secret, and it is these dauntless fans which dress themselves to look like the circus: black and white, though each circus-lover adds a dash of bright crimson to the mix, the better to identify one another in a crowd. These fans are called “rêveurs,” which means dreamers, for the circus is called Le Cirque des Rêves: the circus of dreams.
I am proud to inform you that I am a rêveur.
Let me go back to the start of the Circus’ hold on me. Last spring, myself and my associate here at Something Cute and Nerdy (Alexis) went to the Chicago Public Library downtown to hear Neil Gaiman and Audrey Niffenegger sort of talk about writing but sort of talk about Gaiman’s book Neverwhere, which was selected for the One Book, One Chicago project at the time. During a Q&A portion of the evening, an audience member asked what books Neil had read recently that he liked and would suggest to his own readers. Neil mentioned several books that were older but that he considered favorites, and then he said simply that there was a book coming out in the fall called “The Night Circus” by a woman named Erin Morgenstern, and that it was one of the finest books he’d read in a very long time. He wouldn’t go into detail but he insisted that anyone and everyone would love it. Since that was a pretty strong recommendation from anyone, the fact that Neil Gaiman was the one giving the order made it doubly – possibly triply – so. I jotted down the book and author and tucked it away for later.
In July, I was coming in for a shift at my part time job at a chain bookstore on the north side of Chicago and on the table where we leave advanced copies of things not yet available for puchase I noticed a large, black paperback. Huge, really. Its cover was hidden by the letter from the publisher or agent or whomever, the letter which cheerfully requests that someone read the book and give it a review or talk it up to customers, etc. I put my things down to pick it up, curious what could be that big. The letter fell to reveal the cover of Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” and I actually cried out in excitement and surprise.
It was like someone knew I wanted to read it and made sure I’d have a copy.
I took it home that night and within 48 hours had read the entirety of the novel, and within 72 hours had re-read parts that were particularly delicious and fascinating. I knew then that Neil Gaiman was right (as perhaps he tends to be) and that this book will be an incredible revelation once released. It is captivating beyond measure and the sensory details woven into every page are simply stunning.
“The Night Circus” tells the stories of many different people, but at the center of the novel are Celia Bowen, daughter of the great magician Prospero, and the orphan Marco, raised by a mysterious man in a gray suit, also a magician. Celia and Marco are raised with the knowledge that they are part of some kind of test or challenge, pitted against another individual, but it takes a long time before they meet one another, and even then, Celia does not yet know that Marco is her enemy. Along the way, people they are both acquainted with begin the construction of a fantastic circus which will travel the globe performing wonders like no circus ever before, and will live in the hearts and memories of its audiences for decades to come. The thing that many do not realize until much later, of course, is that Le Cirque des Rêves is built on real magic, and that Celia (their mysterious illusionist) and Marco (the circus manager’s assistant) are proficient in the unknown language of real magic and manipulation of the world around them. Their challenge is still unknown, and now the circus houses both of them, but no one can say where or how it will all end…
Exactly as the rêveurs follow the Cirque des Rêves across the world, I felt immediately as a reader that I would gladly read “The Night Circus” over and over again without ever tiring of it. It is impossibly chock-full of feelings, sights, and smells that are described with masterful detail and linger long after you’ve turned the page. The stories of each of the people involved in the inception of the Cirque des Rêves are as fascinating and mysterious as the circus itself, but truly the tales of Celia and Marco are the most incredible.
This is Erin Morgenstern’s first novel, and by all means I confidently say that she is a genius of the heart, and a true magician like her characters: the kind that simply reveals real magic where it is found and lets the reader decide if it’s an illusion or not. I am wholly in love with “The Night Circus” and know without hesitation that once it hits bookshelves on September 15 it will draw the rest of the world in until we are all wearing red scarves, red gloves, or red flowers on our lapel.
We are all rêveurs, and Erin Morgenstern has finally given us a place to call home with this incredible dreamscape of beauty and mystery.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is available September 15th, 2011. Pre-order it HERE!