Book Review: The Night Circus

I freely admit that I get reading recommendations from anywhere and everywhere - book blogs, friends' bookshelves, Amazon emails, train station posters, magazine reviews and cover blurbs. The Night Circus definitely came under the latter two categories, as just before Christmas every magazine seemed to be raving about it and the two main reviews on the cover were from Audrey Niffenegger (author of one of my favourite books) and Tea Obreht (whose novel, The Tiger's Wife, I am absolutely desperate to read). So I put it on my Christmas list and Father Christmas was kind enough to bring it for me.

For those who've been living under a rock for the past couple of months, The Night Circus is the story of two magicians, Celia and Marco, who are put into a competition against each other when they are children. The venue for the competition is the mysterious black and white circus of the title, which travels across the world throughout the late nineteenth century. There appear to be no definite rules and the winner will only emerge when one or other can no longer endure. As time progresses, the pair gradually fall in love, risking the survival of the circus and its company.

I have to say that the book does initially seem frustrating as it took what seemed like forever to get going and to pull all the different threads of the narrative together due to its jumping about in the chronology, with the consequence that it then feels like the last third of the book is rushed in order to get everything in. That said, when the book does finally get to Marco and Celia's relationship it is utterly gorgeous and I got completely drawn into it. In a way it feels a lot like the relationship between Henry and Clare in The Time Traveler's Wife, in that they are kept separate for a lot of the book and express their love through creating tents in the circus for each other, and particularly in the similarity of the ending (although I'm trying not to give too much away).

Other than Marco and Celia, there doesn't seem to be an enormous amount of depth to the characters; granted there are some who can be glossed over because they don't have a huge part in the narrative, but there are others who I would loved to have known more about, such as Tsukiko the contortionist who ends up playing a key part in the narrative. That said, Morgenstern more than makes up for that in the beautifully realised setting - every little detail of the circus is perfect, right down to the stripes on the confectionery bags - and you feel completely immersed in the world, almost to the extent that you don't mind the lack of depth to the characters. Normally that is a massive bugbear for me but looking back now it marries better with the shadowy nature of the circus.

Overall, a slow burner of a book with an ending that made me get a little teary, and one that has stayed with me even though it's been a few days since I finished it. I'd hesitate to say I loved it, but I think that's partly due to the amount of hype it's had which never really seems to bode well for me - if everyone is raving about a book it always seems to make my expectations of it a bit too high. I will definitely go back to it in a few months though as I think there is more to be uncovered it in on a second reading.

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