Erin Morgenstern’s “The Night Circus” is magical. Reading it was like seeing Cirque du Soleil for the first time. This circus is an illusion. It is the Le Cirque des Rêves, the circus of dreams. It starts at midnight and ends at dawn. The tents people visit are black and white, but you see colors, and sparkles, and fire, and ice. There is an undertone, a rip tide, because it is a venue for a deadly game between surrogates of two masters of illusion with competing methodologies. The Colosseum is a comparable amphitheater.
You know there is a game afoot but you are caught up in the wonderous smells, tastes and sights. The author is a multimedia artist and is a master of hiding what lurks up her sleeve.
One of the competitors, Celia, is the daughter of one of the controlling masters, who was known as Prospero the Enchanter. There is irony in this. The competitors believe it is a game to prove the superiority of their skill. This is an illusion.
“This is the game, isn’t it?” Celia asks. “It’s about how we deal with the repercussions of magic when placed in a public venue, in a world that does not believe in such things. It is a test of stamina and control, not skill.”
The other master knows that Prospero is seeking immortality, an endless dream. This other master, always dressed in grey, like the light that feeds the circus, casts no shadow. Those involved with the circus are suspended in time. He is different from Prospero.
“I certainly hope not. I am content to accept inevitabilities, even if I have ways of putting them off. He was seeking immortality, which is a terrible thing to seek. It is not seeking anything, but rather avoiding the unavoidable. He will grow to despise that state if he does not already. I hope my student and your teacher are more fortunate.”
This novel is an homage to Shakespeare’s “We are such stuff that dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
This novel was the perfect antidote to “The Road” despite its darker elements. It is equally a masterful. I found it hard to believe that this was Ms. Morgenstern’s first novel. It is a beautiful page-turner, part fantasy, part mystery. Definitely a must read.