The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

Hardcover, 2011

Call number

FIC MOR

Collection

Publication

Doubleday (2011), 400 pages

Description

Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways.

Media reviews

Morgenstern’s wonderful novel is made all the more enchanting by top-notch narration from the incomparable Jim Dale.
5 more
I am a reader who should have hated this novel; yet I found it enchanting, and affecting, too, in spite of its sentimental ending. Morgenstern's patient, lucid construction of her circus – of its creators and performers and followers – makes for a world of illusion more real than that of many a realist fiction. There is a matter-of-factness about the magicians' magic, a consistency about the parameters of the circus world, that succeeds both in itself and as a comment upon the need for and nature of illusion in general. While the novel's occasional philosophical gestures seem glib ("You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream"), the book enacts its worldview more satisfyingly than could any summary or statement. Rather than forcing its readers to be prisoners in someone else's imagination, Morgenstern's imaginary circus invites readers to join in an exploration of the possible.
Underneath the icy polish of her prose, Morgenstern well understands what makes The Night Circus tick: that Marco and Celia, whether in competition or in love, are part of a wider world they must engage with but also transcend. It’s a world whose mystique and enigma is hard to shake off, and that invites multiple visits.
The Night Circus is one of those books. One of those rare, wonderful, transcendent books that, upon finishing, you want to immediately start again.
The book itself looks beautiful but creaky plotting and lifeless characters leave The Night Circus less than enchanting
Generous in its vision and fun to read.

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
Sometimes, some books just don't lend themselves to an analytical, opinionated review. I'm reluctant to do that kind of review here and now because the experience of reading The Night Circus was like smelling a magnolia blossom...perfect, sweet, rich, satisfying a need I didn't know I had until it was met...but to examine it, to handle it, even gently, risks that somehow the magical smooth gorgeously textured vessel of chastely erotic pleasure that this book is will let it begin, inexorably and inevitably, to brown and curl and die, and become...just a wonderful book.

I'm not ready for real life yet. I want the magic to linger just a little longer.

The physical book itself was a Christmas gift to me from a GoodReads friend, and to him I offer humble thanks on bended knee. This was in the top five reading experiences of my life, and will most likely remain there for the rest of it. I am changed and exalted. And it is thanks to his generous gift to me.
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LibraryThing member squirrelsohno
THE NIGHT CIRCUS is definitely a book with a hype surrounding it, and like any book with hype, I went in with low expectations. I am by my own admission not a big fan of poetic, lyrical writing, preferring straight forward and stark prose, so I was already a bit wary of Erin Morgenstern’s debut.

As promised, THE NIGHT CIRCUS is a story of magic, romance, intrigue, and historical beauty wrapped in gorgeous prose and imagery that marks Morgenstern as a talent to be watched in the future. The story follows Celia and Marco, two young magicians locked in a battle of magic that will only end when one dies. Over the course of several decades, we are told of their lives, along with a cast of characters and intertwined stories of love, loss, deceit, and utter beauty. Morgenstern’s talent lies in her indelible use of prose and images, describing in detail scenes of wonder and beauty.

Morgenstern’s problem in the book is not her writing. She is highly skilled. Her imagery is brilliant and thought-provoking. What I found lacking was plot. At times the story feels forced, and for the love between Celia and Marco, there was a suddenness to it, almost random in the way that Celia falls for Marco. At times, the imagery, although breathtaking, overwhelmed the plot, focusing too much on the intricate details of insignificant items and people and too little on the details of the plot, the characters, and the circus itself. At times, characterization can fall flat, glossed over for the sake of beautiful descriptions. I wanted to know more about these characters and I felt like I barely knew them by the end of the book.

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed this book and I might be one of the few who didn’t outright love it. I would definitely suggest this book to others, and I already have. My mother is already planning on downloading a Kindle copy and reading it soon, and my best friend has promised to find a copy soon. And so should you. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve been hard-pressed to find many people who didn’t really enjoy it. You might just fall in love with it.

VERDICT: With beautiful prose evoking every sense on every page, THE NIGHT CIRCUS’s flaw is the sacrifice of plot for beauty. But my heavens is it beautiful.
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LibraryThing member cameling
I can see why this book is flying up the bestsellers lists. The word 'magical' has been used often to describe this book, and indeed it offers the reader entry into the world of the magical, a world that exists within a circus and everything we've always found magical about the place.

However, do we spare a thought for what really harnesses magic and what impact magic may have on people unwittingly caught up in the very fabric of it? How will they be changed if the magic were to fade or even disappear? Is magic a weight that can, when invoked, be borne without consequence?

The author spins a wonderful fantastical tale that wraps the reader in gossamer threads of delight, joy and love, but in the skein are some threads that hint at a dark mystery and danger.

A boy and a girl, initially unknown to each other, are competitors in a game in which they have not been given rules. They only know that they need to make moves to challenge the other, to show that they're more talented in what they do ... and that is magic. The night circus is their stage. It draws crowds whenever it appears, the black and white striped tents a magnet for young and old alike. But as the competition becomes more intense and love finds the young duo, understanding how the game ends results in some surprising decisions and new beginnings.

Not everything is explained in the end, but then again, there has to be some mystery to magic.
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LibraryThing member brenzi
I thought I didn’t like fantasy. I’m a serious reader. I love Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte and Edith Wharton. Serious writers. Magical realism? Not for me. Actually, I thought I was getting a book along the lines of Water for Elephants, another circus love story. Uh, no. Not at all like that one. More like a fairy tale for grown-ups I guess. So why did I enjoy this book so much?

Make no mistake; this is a debut novel that is not without its flaws, but entertaining? Oh my, yes. It’s 1873 and Prospero the Enchanter wants to propose a challenge and he has the perfect venue and contestant: his daughter Celia. The man in the gray suit has his own highly thought of candidate: Marco. So let the challenge begin to produce the most provocative circus known to man. The wager is on and the challenge continues for the next thirty or so years. Marco and Celia do not realize that the other is their competitor.

But what kind of a circus is only open at night? Well one that is loaded with unusual circus acts such as the illusionist, the fortune teller, the contortionist, an intriguing set of twins with precocious kittens and a complicated clock crafted in Germany. Well you get the idea; no elephants or the kind of acts you expect to find at the circus.

Morgenstern is, above all else, a gifted storyteller, a tale spinner superb. She takes us back and forth in time, from New York, to London, to Paris, to Montreal and more. The circus travels all over the globe as Marco and Celia try to one up the other in making this truly Les Cirques des Reves: the Circus of Dreams. The fanatic followers of the circus are known as reveurs:

“It is these aficionados, these reveurs, who see the details in the bigger picture of the circus. They see the nuances of the costumes, the intricacy of the signs. They buy sugar flowers and do not eat them, wrapping them in paper instead and carefully brining them home. They are enthusiasts, devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent.” (Page 143)

The combination of impressive story-telling, quirky characters, a compelling narrative and a fairy tale for grown-ups make this debut novel hard to resist. Highly recommended
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LibraryThing member lobotomy42
What starts out as a merely mediocre Gaiman knock-off quickly spirals into nonsense and inanity.

The Night Circus is set in Victorian-era Europe and America, more or less. This turns out not to affect the book in any noticeable way except to provide an excuse for characters to say "I shall" instead of "I will" and "I do not" instead of "I don't." (Because, apparently in this universe, contractions were not invented until sometime after 1910.)

The eponymous circus is, we learn, beautiful and magical and wonderful. We know this not because anything particularly amazing happens in the circus (whose "magical treasures" consist of ice sculptures, mazes, a magician and some candy) but because the narrator and every single character in the book constantly tell us that the circus is beautiful and magical and wonderful. In fact, it seems everyone in the world is beautiful and magical wonderful. Is the author capable of writing "unpleasant" or "boring" or even "mediocre?" Apparently The Night Circus subscribes to the particularly dreadful school of thought instilled in 90s-raised American children that "everyone is special, and equal, and equally special." (This philosophy is demonstrably false, as The Night Circus is a great deal worse than almost anything else I've ever read.)

The plot is a series of contrivances layered on top of each other. Two great magicians train pupils to battle each other by...performing magic tricks in a circus. (Don't think about this too hard if you want to enjoy the book.) Why they do this is never really explained, nor is the reason for keeping magic secret from everyone else, nor the reason for keeping the terms of the battle secret from the pupils, nor why two characters who spend years separated from each other suddenly fall in love and decide to quit the game, nor why they can't just ignore the rules and live out their circus-lives in peace. Characters wander in and out of scenes, asking questions, reciting vague aphorisms and acting as if something dark is afoot. People utter things like "That is not for you to know" and "The future is not set in stone" by way of explanation. But, in fact, everything "not for you to know" eventually becomes known to the character in question, and turns out to be of little consequence. All the characters play out their roles exactly as described by the various clairvoyants in the story, so it certainly seems like the future is set in stone. These vagaries succeed at adding a certain amount of suspense to the book by implicitly promising that a plot will eventually make itself manifest, but at the expense of any kind of believability of the characters or their actions.

I found The Night Circus to be borderline unreadable. The characters are all carbon copies of the same manic-pixie-dream-girl who do incomprehensible, meaningless nothings for pages on end, described in prose that reassures you constantly, like an insecure parent, that the Circus is a magical and enchanting place and not, as it appears, a giant tent of false nostalgia and cheap tricks.
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LibraryThing member drachenbraut23
This was undeniably the best book I have read so far this year. I listened to the book as unabridged audiobook version and just loved it. When the book first came out, I even didn’t look twice at it, because I don’t like black and white. I only can say what a mistake it was.

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

Well, why did I love it? I just loved the detailed, stunning, mesmerizing descriptions, also the plot moved along slowly the tension was almost unbearable. Maybe, I loved the story so much because I am so excited about the Circus in general. My great grandfather and my grandfather both were born in the Circus, and also it was only my great grandfather who performed until old age, the passion for the Circus life was passed on to the next generations.

“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There's magic in that. It's in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift."

However, the story centers on Marco and Celia who are groomed from a remarkably early age to become magicians. Pitted against each other in a challenge to find out whom the better magician is, the stage is set in the Le Cirque des Reves. They know OF each other, but don’t know EACH other until much later. They begin to love each other long before and start to create more and more attractions in the circus to satisfy one another. However, IMO the story itself is the least significant part as this position is reserved for the Night Circus itself. I think this is one of those stories you either get downright sucked in, or you hate it because of the way the story is written. For one, we jump constantly around the timeline; the story largely unfolds through the eyes of the different characters involved. The story appears at times disconnected, but then you see the silver thread that holds the story together. These varied, weird and magnificent casts of characters are the ones who keep the story of the circus going, they are the ones who engage, enchant and mesmerize you in the same way as the various tents give you a myriad of extraordinary experiences. Although, the ending of the story could be considered rather weak, but despite all these minor flaws and the sometimes slow journey, you are utterly captivated throughout the story.
Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys detailed descriptions and has a passion for the Circus.

Everything in this tent is white. Nothing black, not even stripes visible on the walls. A shimmering, almost blinding white. There are trees and flowers and grass surrounding twisted pebble pathways, every leaf and petal perfectly white. The Ice Garden!… (more)
LibraryThing member maggie1944
Finished reading The Night Circus and am mulling over my "review". I loved the book, that is not the problem. The challenge is finding a way to capture why I loved the book in a way which might convince you to read it.

So, it starts, sorta, with a farm boy walking from his farm to a circus which has just arrived in the neighborhood, unexpectedly. And it is an odd circus as it is open only at night. Well, and then, it is also odd because it is basically all in black and white. Dramatic. And Mysterious. Then you get to meet some of the people who manage the circus, produced the circus, and are continuing to be a part of the circus. And then, just like the circus is a bit weird, perhaps magical, perhaps other-worldly and unsettling, more of the story becomes just so, also.

The books settings are not all at the circus. As the story and the circus develop the reader is treated to the acquaintance of people "behind" the circus. And their social life with each other is reminiscent of turn of the century dinner parties with the rich and famous. And they are entertaining, too.

Finally, there is a love story. So there you have it: A really weird, and wonderful, circus; a varied and entertaining social set including a couple magicians; and a love story. All shot through with magic, smoke and mirrors, and marvelous writing.

Read it. Really, you want to.

Oh, five stars from me.
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LibraryThing member lacenaire
Reading all the effusive praise in these reviews, I am left puzzled. It seems it cannot be the book that I read. I have given it 2 stars and wonder if that is too generous. The average rating is 4.32 stars. That is comparable with the average rating for Pride and Prejudice and The Brothers Karamozov. It is higher than Emma, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Silas Marner, Tess of the D'Ubervilles, A Hazard of New Fortunes, Against the Grain, The Wings of the Dove, Moby Dick, The Red and The Black, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Therese Raquin, Germinal and probably most of the great works of the 19th century.

I chose 19th-Century works because most of The Night Circus is set in the late 19th century. It would appear that the author is unaware of these works, because if she was, she would have some acquaintance of the customs and speech of the time. Instead, her characters speak and behave like fatuous 21st-century adolescents. I kept asking myself, "Where are the adults?" Is there anyone of substance in this work? Is there anyone to admire, even respect? No! All of the characters are silly and of no consequence.

Even the clockmaker, Friedrick, wasn't shown enough concern to make real. Rather his devices were bathed in adverbs to avoid having to describe his work. And his name! Preposterous! By the late 19th century "Friedrick" was out of vogue and would have been an eccentric spelling of "Friedrich" better left for hillbillies. It would have been akin to "Gennifer" or "Kourtney". Why do it? It only chips away at the verisimilitude.

Speaking of names. How about "Widget" as a nickname? "Widget" isn't even a word until the 1920s. Why are 19th-century people using it? And speaking of the 20th century, I kept praying for some of its magic to intrude upon this train wreck of a novel. If only Truman Capote could have capered in with Holly GoLightly, maybe they could have whipped some of these assholes into shape.

I blindly will take a bet with anyone that paragraphs of one sentence in this story exceed that of any other length. It was as if the author didn't want to write a book at all. What she wanted was to be the writer of screen directions. She wants her story to be a movie so she can cash in.

Books are tedious. They're difficult to undertake. And the money is barely enough to buy groceries. What a bore!

If only she could have written paragraphs of no sentences, what a triumph this book may have been!

Ah, well. Why pile on? To list all of the book's faults is to give it too much credit.

You people that rated this book so highly. What were you thinking? Don't you read good literature?

Never mind great literature. It's clearly beneath you.
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LibraryThing member snat
The Night Circus reminds me of a wedding cake: breath-takingly beautiful and intricate, with an infinite amount of attention paid to every detail. And, while you'll do the polite thing and talk about how delicious it was, in your heart-of-hearts you know that the simple homemade cake you've got waiting for you at home is infinitely better. Because a wedding cake isn't really about taste at all; it's all about flash, panache, and aesthetics. As your fork breaks through all the magic of sculpted icing, what you often find is that it lacks flavor and texture. All the effort went into the external and not the internal. That's how I feel about The Night Circus. It is unquestionably beautiful in its descriptions of the enchanting black and white Circus of Dreams and connects with you on the level of a child's awe and wonderment with encountering a world where the possibility of magic is confirmed, but in the final analysis what is missing is a story full of conflict, tension, and developed characters. It's certainly pretty to look at, but didn't resonate with me.

The beginning of the book is filled with promise. Celia Bowen is delivered to her father, Prospero the Enchanter, after her mother commits suicide. Prospero is initially disinterested in the daughter he never knew nor wanted, but becomes intrigued when her anger manifests itself in the movement and breaking of objects in the room around her. Like her father, Celia has a gift for magic--a gift that her father uses to make a living as an illusionist, knowing that his audiences will never suspect what they witness on stage is real and not just sleight of hand. After training Celia to control her powers, Prospero contacts the mysterious Alexander, another true magician, and the two make a wager. Prospero will pit his daughter against an opponent of Alexander's choosing in a challenge that is never clearly defined to the reader. Alexander accepts and promptly plucks Marco, a boy with a love of reading, from a nearby orphanage and begins training him.

{a few spoilers ahead; those still interested in reading the book may want to stop here}

It's at this point that the book has a lot of promise and I'm actually getting excited about the challenge to come. And this is where problems start to surface. Several chapters segue into peripheral storylines not really deserving of exploration as they take the tension out of the challenge between the two magicians. But that's okay, because there's not a lot of tension there to begin with. Celia and Marco are trained for a challenge that's never defined for them. They don't know how the game is played (nor why) and they don't know who their opponent is. Hell, they don't even know what the challenge is until they've unknowingly been involved in it for a while. This is problematic because Celia and Marco have no reason to be invested in the challenge and neither does the reader as we, too, are kept in the dark in regard to all of these matters. It turns out that the challenge is the circus itself, designed specifically as a battleground for the two magicians and the challenge is basically to create additional tents of merriment and delight. That's it. No showdowns, no dramatic monologues, no tension, no pounding of wizard staffs, no ruthlessly executed tactical maneuvers. It's just "I think I'll make a pretty, pretty Ice Garden" followed by "Oh, he made a pretty, pretty ice garden. I think I'll make a really nifty wishing tree" and on and on it goes, where it stops nobody knows . . . or cares. To completely suck any tension out of this scenario, the two fall in love, which only heightens their disinterest in playing out the game. Their moves and countermoves actually become hidden messages to one another, tributes to the love that will never be.

All of this is not to say that I hated the book. I liked it and I could certainly appreciate the beauty of the descriptions. Some have compared it to Neil Gaiman, which I disagree with as Gaiman would have infused the story with sinister undertones, clever word play and verbal sleight of hand to catch the reader off-guard, and more of a gothic feel. What the book really needs are two magicians who know exactly who they are fighting and why they are fighting--and both of whom desperately want to win. Without that, it's just a tower of lovely icing that leaves you hungry for more than sugar and beauty in the end.
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LibraryThing member Liz1564
Le Cirque des Reves, the Night Circus, opens at dusk and closes at dawn. Between those hours, the people lucky enough to attend can wander down twisting paths that lead to black and white striped tents where wonderful acts are being performed. Some are feats of daring, aerialists who perform impossible acts without nets and contortionists who can encase themselves in glass boxes no larger than a hatbox. Then there is the carousel where the fantastic animals seem to breathe and snort. A beautiful illusionist can make paper ravens fly and liquid flow back into a newly mended teacup. The Hall of Mirrors seems to stretch forever and the entire circus is painted in shades of black, white and gray with splashes of red briefly seen. Sparkles are diamonds and pearls, crystals and glass. Smoke and mirrors or is it? For the Night Circus is magic disguised as illusion, not illusion pretending to be magic. And thereby hangs the tale.

Two powerful magicians from opposite schools make a wager to see whose magical techniques are superior. Hector Bowen, stagename Prospero the Enchanter, believes in hereditary magic and intensive concentration to control the elements. Mr. A. H., the man in gray, stands for study of ancients texts, runes, charms, and spells. Both will take a child and teach the child his magic. The Night Circus will become the venue to display the unique gifts of each acolyte and the public is invited to unknowingly witness the contest. Hector chooses his own daughter and A. H. finds a child in an orphanage. As the years pass the children grow to become powerful magicians and their magic powers the circus. The gryphons on the carousel do breathe and the Hall of Mirrors is endless. More and more enchanted tents are added....an ice garden, a wishing tree covered with candles, a pool that soothes away sorrow.

This is not a sword and sorcery novel. There is no epic showdown like Harry vs Voldemort or Gandolf vs Sauraman. The contest is who can sustain his/her magic in the Night Circus the longest before the magic begins to fail and the Night Circus disappears. The skills of the two students seem evenly balanced and complementary, rather than contrasting. For something their teachers had not expected has occurred. Celia Bower and Marco have fallen in love. The challenge in which only one one can be left standing becomes the challenge to save their love and to save the Night Circus.

I loved wandering through the enchanted tents and did not want this novel to end.
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LibraryThing member ronincats
Oh, my! I don't know who I feel sorrier for--myself or Ms. Morgenstern. In both cases, because it will be hard for either of us to top this. This book is exactly the sort of lyrical, interweaving, looping, atmospheric, entrancing story that I love. It joins The Dark is Rising, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, along with a few others, in my very special little archive. Morgenstern says nothing of it, but surely she owes a little to that last book, another eerie, atmospheric, lyrical tale involving a strange circus.

The writing IS simply beautiful, the pacing sublime, the characters riveting, the sensations intense--I just loved turning the page. And the ending is perfect. Loops upon loops upon loops...
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LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern is a deliciously mysterious tale of magic, love and a very unique circus. In slow dream like stages the reader is drawn into a story of two young magicians who are set up to duel against each other. Much like the circus itself, the book reveals itself slowly, chapter by chapter, and above all Le Cirque Des Reves influences any who enter it’s gates.

Using symbolism and incredible imagery the author has created a story that, while easy to read, dwells in your mind long afterwards. Your senses of sight, smell and touch are all ignited by her words. The whole time I was reading this book I could smell a distant scent of caramel popcorn. I am not going to describe the plot in anyway as the best part of the book is the slow reveal of the story itself.

An enjoyable, escapist read from a promising new author. This is a story that will have many different meanings depending upon the reader, for me a bittersweet tale of love, loss and redemption.
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LibraryThing member bachaney
Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus" is set in Le Cirque de Reves, a magical, mysterious, night circus traveling the world at the end of the 19th century. The circus is the battleground of two illusionists locked in a great battle--Celia and Marco. Both have been trained from a young age to compete against each other, and each one's teacher is confident his pupil is superior. But Celia and Marco do not share their instructor's passion for the competition, and instead of falling in love with competing, they fall for the magic of the circus and for each other. Will these star-crossed lovers be able to survive their challenge?

I wanted to love The Night Circus, but unfortunately, like the titular circus, the novel is a pretty object without any depth or answers. And this left me feeling flat at the end of the novel. Morgenstern's descriptions of the circus are beautiful, but they are not enough to sustain her nearly 400 page novel. There is very little in the way of character development, and most of the characters are flat, decorative items like the circus they inhabit. I think it would have been okay to have a few dreamlike mysterious characters in the dreamlike circus--but to have all of the characters this way was very frustrating for me as a reader, because there was no one I could connect with. Even the central love story lacked the emotional depth to convince me that the characters actually cared about each other. Finally, I know the circus and the magic are supposed to be a mystery, but I think letting the reader in somewhat on the secret could have built a stronger novel.
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LibraryThing member tututhefirst
I don't normally read or enjoy pure fantasy, but I could not put this down. At one point, as I was listening in the car, I drove an extra 10 miles out of my way because I did not want to stop listening to the audio. The story is one of pure magic.

A young woman, Celia Bowen, daughter of a famous magician, is trained by her father to use and enhance very exceptional powers she has. She becomes the premier illusionist in the "Cirque de Reves". Her father enters her (without her knowledge) into a contest of magical wits and powers against another magician - the protegè of the circus' owner, an old rival of Celia's father. This young man Marco also does not know at first that he is locked into this combat. As both young people grow, and become more adept at their powers, and are drawn romantically to each other; the circus gains in fame; more fans are engaged; and more incredible actors are introduced to us.

The suspense builds beautifully as the reader knows that there is a contest, we know who the contestants are, but we don't know exactly what is involved. We are as much in the fog about the details as the main characters. Even with a constantly back and forth time line, we have no trouble hanging on to the illusion. We sit on the edge of our seats in that circus tent waiting to see what happens next, and every time a new magic occurs we wonder: "Is this it? Is this the contest?" Later, as the suspense builds and the characters become more involved, we undergo another kind of suspense waiting for the climax.

I can't say anything more. I can't spoil this fabulous, wonderful, engaging, and incredible story telling. It is a book to be read in any format, and enjoyed over and over again. It's definitely going into my personal permanent collection.
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LibraryThing member mrstreme
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen! Come closer to learn more about a true visual spectacle - a mind twister of a book - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. No bearded ladies or five-legged goats - just a book that bends your imagination and senses.

Yes, it's a circus book, and certainly we've had our share of circus stories lately. While most books focus on the oddities, The Night Circus offers up something more. It's a veritable feast for your senses. Your mind's eye will almost tire from the stimulation. Your nose will go into overtime imagining the aromas. And your skin will tingle from conjuring the sensations of the circus. (Has anyone bought the movie rights yet? Tim Burton, this has your name written all over it!)

It's what The Night Circus does to the corners of your imagination, though, that makes this book a pleasure to read. Erin Morgenstern's debut is not without flaws. Overall, though, she accomplishes a tremendous feat: to drop the reader into the story, fully immersed like a live witness to the story's events.

I was less impressed with the love story angle of The Night Circus - it almost felt contrived, not as natural as the rest of the moving parts of the story. I was never convinced that the main characters, Marco and Celia, had a relationship that could sustain beyond the competition. Star-crossed beautiful lovers from competing sides is the oldest trick in the book - and overplayed. Many will disagree with me, and that's okay. Perhaps I've become old and unromantic.

Circus fiction can read like a three-ring circus, but that's not the case with this book. Just like the circus, The Night Circus is full of magic and would make for a great book club discussion - and an even better movie. I recommend it to any reader who likes to journey to the unbelievable - even just once in a while.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
Nothing about the Night Circus is predictable. There is no travel schedule. It appears unannounced. The performers disappear at the end of their acts, or blend into crowds unrecognized. Some of them don’t even cast a shadow. Its “magic” transcends anything to be found elsewhere, and seems to be based on something more than just distraction, deception and misdirection. Everything is presented in black and white, yet the obvious symbolism cannot be inferred. There is a man in a grey suit, who is decidedly ambiguous, but don’t expect a classic clash between good and evil.

Who was it who said "There is less there than meets the eye"? Dorothy Parker? No, Talullah Bankhead. She could have been talking about this book. It's dazzling and well-written and imaginative and yet ultimately unsatisfying. The story line is full of hints and suggestions of revelations to come, and yet they never do. The few dramatic action moments are startling, yet somehow insignificant. I don’t usually object to authors moving backward and forward in time through the course of a novel, but in this one it just seemed perverse and purposeless. A “shenanigan”, if you will. It was a quick read, and for the most part engaging even though it didn’t seem to go anywhere. I never felt like abandoning it, but I did feel somewhat snookered when I finished it. Perhaps the whole book is a metaphor for illusion. If that’s what she was up to, she deserves full marks. Cynical me, though, is going to give it 3 silver stars for cleverness without direction, and an extra half for shininess.
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LibraryThing member jnwelch
The Night Circus is a charmer that is nearly impossible to put down. Set in the late 1800s, it invokes a beautifully rendered circus that, thank goodness, has nothing to do with clowns or elephants, and is only open at night. Inside instead are endless marvels of dream-like enchantment. There is an ice garden where the flowers and trees are made of ice and snow. Another tent is dark inside, with little stoppered bottles that, when opened, release scents that transport the visitor to lovely locales and favorite memories. At the entrance stands an amazing clock:

The body of the clock, which has been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is now entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower who paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played.
At the center, where a cuckoo bird would live in a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler.

A young girl and boy, Celia and Marco, have been trained as magicians by rather selfish, arrogant mentors, and set at one another at the circus. What is not expected is that they will fall in love. Their contest becomes more of a collaboration, as they create amazing new tent exhibits for each other, and eventually begin to combine their efforts, much to the consternation of their mentors. Other characters, such as the contortionist Tsukiko, the clockmaker Friedrick Thiessen, and the architect Mr. Barris, try to help them. But the contest has been designed for a single winner.

This book is like a vacation between paper covers. Away you go to the Night Circus.
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LibraryThing member Aerrin99
The Night Circus is lovely in tone and haunting in atmosphere. It drags you in and holds you tight, and Morgenstern does absolutely delicious things with description.

This book could have been a disaster. It relies a lot on a sense of place, on a feeling of whimsy and magic and mysticism that comes in large part from vignettes focusing on the circus itself. Morgenstern pulls it off, though. Her writing is magical, and she makes you crave caramel corn and a walk through the labyrinth and a glimpse of the fantastic ice garden.

There's a plot here, but to be frank, it's thin. The romance is thin, the challenge is thin, and to some extent even the characters are thin. But for me, that's okay, because it's not that sort of book. It's a book about magic and about possibilities and about place and atmosphere, and /that/ it does wonderfully. The rest are all tools to find that sweet spot of glorious imagination, and they are, at least, up to that task.

In many ways, The Night Circus reminds me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The sense of discovering and living in a place where normal rules don't apply and people live lives beyond our comprehension is fantastic. Definitely worth a read if you like that sort of thing.
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LibraryThing member bragan
Two young people are bound together in a strange magical competition whose playing field is a traveling circus. An impossible, beautiful black-and-white circus that appears without warning and opens only at night. But as time goes on, they find they would much rather join together than compete, if only they had the choice...

I definitely liked this book, although maybe not quite as much as I expected to. The plot is less substantial and compelling than it seemed it was going to be at first, the competition itself is almost a little too subtle to be satisfying. And the interweaving timelines of the novel could be slightly confusing, especially at the beginning. But basic premise is good, and the circus itself is fantastic, in every sense of the word. There's a real feeling of magic and mystery and endless, wondrous possibility here, and that all by itself makes this well worth reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member spounds
I really wanted to like this book, but it was excruciatingly slow! I listened to it on Audible and the book was broken into two 7-hour parts. When I finally got to the second part, the action got started, but by then I was just ready for it to be over.

I really had a problem with Jim Dale's narration, too. I loved him reading the Harry Potter series, but for some reason he read this one in a sing-songy voice where every sentence, whether declarative, exclamatory, or interrogative, sounded like a question. At one point while listening in the car I actually yelled at my radio, "Shut up!!" and hit the off button.

Add to that the book was written in the present tense which also left me on edge, and this was not an enjoyable experience. Ok, I'm done with the whining and I'm on to the next book as quick as I can!
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LibraryThing member delphica
Wow, my feelings about this are all over the place.

It's a very atmospheric book, A LOT of it is devoted to creating, very convincingly, the whole mood and tone of a mysterious, dreamlike circus (which I imagine you figured out from the title). For the most part, this is done very well -- there were a few over the top things that made me roll my eyes, but primarily, I bought into it. It helps (spoken like a true Betsy-Tacy) that there are some very tantalizing descriptions of the circus confections. Five stars for the food, that's for sure. It's very much turn-of-the-last century, and the feel is that autumnal, Edwardian, touch of steampunk that reminds me of that movie about the magician that wasn't the one with Edward Norton.

An aside to mention that in the relatively short time I've been reading on the ipad, I've already happily adjusted to thinking of books in percentages -- it tells you both the page number and what percentage of the book you have gotten through, and the percentage feels weirdly intuitive, I mean, sometimes I have no idea how many pages I've read, but I have a sense of "Am I at halfway? A third?" So anyway, I was at 50% when I realized for all that I was mildly enjoying the creation of the circus world and the overall feel of the thing, I didn't especially find the plot very compelling. It was halfway into the book, and there weren't even a lot of characters that I felt any special affinity for, maybe three (Bailey and the twins). It was that thing where reading it was interesting enough, but it was never any hardship to close the book when the train got to my station, you know?

Then, at 75% percent, things picked up and got intriguing. Now, finally! I was into it. Things were coming together. I'm not that impressed by a book that takes this long to actually hook me, but I figured now that I was there, it was pretty darn good.

But then ... the ending. It wasn't that satisfying. It was one of those times when you're reading and get to the end and you're thinking "that's the ending?" It wasn't so much a bad ending, in terms of outcome or quality of writing, but it's not going to knock anyone's socks off. And going back to the 75% issue, if it takes THAT LONG to kick it into gear, it better come with an awesome finale.

And that is why this gets three stars from me. It's a decent book, but it promises a lot more than it delivers.

Note: It's the kind of circus that doesn't have clowns, thank goodness. I checked before I read it.

Grade: B+
Recommended: It's fine. I think this would be a good fall read.
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LibraryThing member SAtrium15
The opening of “Night Circus” promises an experience similar to “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury, but delivers smoke and mirrors instead. I found a long series of vignettes where the reader must guess at the hidden action behind the few gestures in each tableau.

***Spoiler Alert***

There’s no protagonist to follow. The only real person is Bailey (Get it? Bailey and circus?) Bailey is the touchstone as much as a fire or a tree.

The opening of “Night Circus” promises an experience similar to “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury, but delivers smoke and mirrors instead. I found a long series of vignettes where the reader must guess at the hidden action behind the few gestures in each tableau.

***Spoiler Alert***

There’s no protagonist to follow. The only real person is Bailey (Get it? Bailey and circus?) Bailey is the touchstone as much as a fire or a tree.

Time stretches out reminiscent of “The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus”, except there’s no eternal struggle between good and evil, and the fate of society doesn’t ride on the outcome.

My final reaction is sadness. So much talent was resident with the characters with magic, but they could think only to play a game of one-upmanship. The weight of decadence, exemplified by the contortionist, was more like the society of vampires that Louis finds in Europe in Ann Rice’s “Interview with a Vampire.”

Lovely writing, though, if the reader has a taste for sorting through old tintypes where the viewer must guess the meaning behind the many pained expressions of ancestors.
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LibraryThing member janeajones
This was a pure pleasure read. Part fairy-tale, part fin-de-siecle nostalgia, with a dollop of reflection on the nature and ramifications of illusion. The magic of circuses -- the skill of the performers, the closed society, the allure of thrilling danger -- has its own element of courtliness and Romance that Morgenstern exploits extremely well. And her language can be mesmerizing. The Night Circus is not the best novel about circuses I have read -- Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus carries more complexity -- but it's a dazzling debut. I look forward to her next book.

Secrets have power.... And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them. Writing them down is worse, because who can tell how many eyes might see them inscribed on paper, no matter how careful you might be with it. So it's really best to keep your secrets when you have them, for their own good, as well yours.
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LibraryThing member beserene
If you have had any doubts about this wonderful book, if you thought all those positive reviews and recommendations were mere hype, put those thoughts aside and read it. Erin Morgenstern's debut is one of the best fantasies I have read in a very long time.

The novel ushers you into the world of Le Cirque du Reves -- the Circus of Dreams -- with a complex narrative line which first addresses the reader, then moves her around to two different timelines. Not every reader will appreciate the complexity -- it even took me a minute to settle into enjoying the pattern when I began reading -- but the lines build toward each other in an elegant progression that enhances the sense of wonder pervading the whole story.

There is never a moment in the novel where one feels completely comfortable or fully informed, and that insecurity is actually part of the charm, believe it or not. This is a novel built of magic and tension. Each complex character who parades into view is something of a mystery -- and several are not at all what they seem. Though sometimes the revelation of a character's true nature can be frustrating -- I disliked the change in one particular character at the end -- it all feels quite necessary.

For a novel of such lush detail, it's impressive that nothing here seems superfluous. Part of that comes from the intricacy of the ideas and images being presented. The circus is connected to two competing magicians, each of whom has a hand (in different ways) in building both the circus attractions and the pieces of the plot. Each section of the novel describes fantastical tents containing the magnificent wishes of imagination come to literary truth. Richness of detail is entirely necessary in such moments, and Morgenstern delivers, while not taking it too far over the top. Of course, this is a circus book, so over the top is relative.

The other half of that lack of superfluity is the poetic shape of the whole novel. Coming full circle, in the literary sense, has been done since the ancient epics of Greece, so it isn't innovative -- but it is done well here. There is something beautiful and satisfying about that kind of completeness. It seems, throughout as well as at that finely constructed end, that Morgenstern is very conscious of the story as a whole -- a complete entity with its own shape. That may seem like a strange thing to point out, but how many novels have we read that peter out at the end, rather than building to a strong and balanced finish? Such details as this distinguish the skilled writer from the amateur.

Morgenstern's craftsmanship is readily apparent on every page, but that isn't necessarily why you should read this book. You should read it because it creates elaborate, magical visions that you will wish existed. You should read it because it contains characters who are beautiful, charming, disturbing, careless, thoughtful, and, yes, complicated. You should read it because it will make you fall in love, with a circus or a person or both at once. You should read it because it is more than a Very Good book -- it is a marvel.
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LibraryThing member Soniamarie
I'm in the minority here, but I didn't LOVE this book. I did at first.. At first, I was entranced by the vivid descriptions of the circus, the woman contortionist, the clock, Celia changing her dress color, her father disappearing. Interesting stuff, but by page 200, I was going, "okay, more descriptions? Enough already. Get on with the tale."

It's a superb idea and a very unique book, thus I gave it a three despite the fact I ended up skimming the last half due to boredom and frustration. I grew frustrated because 1. time jumping. I loathe too much time jumping. I got so confused at the changing years and ages of the characters, I had to email a friend who previously read this and ask her, "how old is everyone when?" Had I realized it was going to be so darn complicated, I would have taken notes from the very beginning. However, if I have to start recording stuff, it takes some of the fun out of reading. 2. Who the heck are these people? The characters are so... standoffish, so untouchable. You never get to know them or their deep thoughts. Romance? I didn't feel it at all.

Most people will love it. That's obvious from all the glowing reviews.
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Pages

400

ISBN

0385534639 / 9780385534635
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