I am so happy today to feature a guest post from Hayley at Lotus Writing Therapy. She writes about her favorite book, Night Circus.
The Night Circus
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
For me, the love of this book grew, quite literally, from judging a book by its cover. I knew nothing about the author, or the story, but the stylish black cover with its accents of red and silver called to me from across the bookshop. The combination of two silhouettes, a man and woman in Victorian dress, look like they’re having that moment when you pass someone so interesting you have to stop and turn your head to take a second look. In the background a red and white circus tent, topped with a fantastical clock promises a spectacle. The silver swirls and stars suggest something magical and romantic. It is no wonder that the book has become iconic with artists and readers, inspiring art works from prints to paper cuts in their thousand on sites like Etsy. Without even reading the blurb I knew I would be buying this book. It was love at first sight. The book spoke in whispered promises to me; ‘I know you’ve been let down by other book covers, that didn’t keep their promise, but you won’t be disappointed.’ I wasn’t. Every time I’ve read this book since, I’m still never disappointed. It is, quite simply, magical.
Le Cirques des Reves only opens at night and offers a unique menu of attractions and performances, but for Celia and Marcos something more sinister is happening behind the scenes. The two magicians have been trained from childhood to compete in a duel of magic devised by their masters. This is a battle of wills that only one can survive. Despite this they fall madly in love, a fierce, magical love that causes flames to flicker when they merely brush against each other. But the game must still play out and it affects the extraordinary circus performers and the patrons. This is a fantasy that immerses the reader into another world, of illusion and dazzling beauty.
It’s hard to put into words exactly what it was like to read this novel for the first time. I know it’s a bit of a marmite book, from the reviews on Goodreads. For me though, the author manages to tap straight into my sensations. I experience synaesthesia as a symptom of my Multiple Sclerosis, and I think I first experienced the book in my body as well as my mind. The opening made me tingle with excitement. I could feel every illusion and the author’s incredible descriptive passages bring the circus to life. The book is a spell in itself, if I was interrupted or called away from reading, it felt like waking from a dream. The author keeps the illusions themselves separate from the plot, almost like dream sequences. Mr Barris commissions a clock from the master cuckoo clock maker Herr Thiessen. The only instructions are to keep the clock monochrome, but otherwise he has total artistic licence. The only descriptive word used is ‘dreamlike’. When the clock is unveiled, it is simply a clock at first glance, but once it is wound and begins to tick….
‘The changes are slow. First the colour changes in the face, shifts from white to grey, and then there are clouds that float across it, disappearing when they reach the opposite side. Meanwhile, bits of the body of the clock expand and contract, like pieces of a puzzle. As though the clock is falling apart, slowly and gracefully. […] At the centre, where a cuckoo bird would live in a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler. Dressed in harlequin style with a grey mask, he juggles shiny silver balls that correspond to each hour.’
Alongside the juggler there are flowers, planets, and tiny books with pages that turn. It is a dream made from wood and magic. Marco and Celia create ice forests and beautiful ballgowns that change colour. There are fortune tellers, acrobats, trapeze artists, a Japanese contortionist and young twins who are learning how to create illusions. Every tent houses a different space, another illusion or fantasy experience. This is Marco and Celia’s exhibition, they compete and collaborate at the will of their masters. At the centre of everything is the fire, which my friend brought to life in cake form for my birthday.
‘It sits in a wide black iron cauldron, balanced on a number of clawed feet. Where the rim of a cauldron would be, it breaks into long strips of curling iron, as though it has been melted and pulled apart like taffy. […] the flames are visible in the gaps between and rising slightly above. […] the flames are not yellow or orange, but white as snow as they dance.’
I also love the characters. They are mercurial, multi-faceted and hard to pin down. They are Willo-the-Wisps, people made from cloud or smoke that you catch a glimpse of before they disappear again. They are all flawed and I was never sure who to trust, except for the twins Poppy and Widget who are the purest little cherubs! There is tension in the game, we never truly understand why the game is played, but are left to wonder whether if Celia and Marco have to play it out to the end, will the circus be destroyed? Or will their love for their fantastical creation and each other cause them to rebel and protect what they have built?
When I first finished this book, several years ago now, I was bereft. I longed to be back in that world and understood why the circus had fans who would leave everything and simply follow it from city to city. I genuinely felt exactly as those who left the circus and went back to normal life.
‘You think, as you walk away from Le Circque des Reves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus. You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is a dream’.
It was no surprise that Erin Morgenstern turned out to be an artist. It can be seen in every detail of the circus costumes, the construction of the incredible circus clock and through her input on the cover. Morgenstern graduated from Smith College with a degree in Studio and Theatre Arts. She was rejected by thirty literary agents before signing with Doubleday, which should give
More about Hayley
Hayley has loved books ever since she completed her school reading scheme at 9 years old and discovered Little Women and Jane Eyre. After studying literature at university, she trained as a counsellor and is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing and Well-being. You can visit her website www.lotuswritingtherapy.com where she has her Lotus Readers Blog. Her favourite authors are Alice Hoffman, Jessie Burton, Laura Purcell and Maggie O’Farrell, as well as Erin Morgenstern. She lives in Lincolnshire with far too many pets.
You can follow her on twitter: @hayleylotusflo1