As a total cheapskate, I generally get books for a quarter at used book sales, or for free by borrowing them from friends and family (or stopping by the library or the Book Thing). But last month, I uncharacteristically bought myself a brand new, freshly released, hardcover book, for no reason at all. No reason except that I really, really wanted it. I trotted over to Kramerbooks on my lunch hour, and there it was, the one I was looking for, The Night Circus in all of it’s shiny, new hardbound glory.
Ahh, new book smell…
I had read so many great things about Erin Morgenstern‘s first novel that I was a bit concerned that my expectations would be too high.
The Night Circus presents us with two young protagonists, Celia and Marco, who are unwillingly trapped in a deadly magic competition by their feuding teachers. The rules of the game are unclear, but at least the venue is: a circus in which Celia and Marco try to one up each other with ever more breathtaking magical feats. Inevitably, our two heroes fall in love. Morgenstern describes each new circus attraction in exquisite detail, from a Cloud Maze to an Ice Garden to a vast and realistic forest within a tent. The circus even has its own groupies, the reveurs, who follow the circus from town to town and wear red scarves to identify one another in the crowd.
The book is both a fantasy tale and a love story, but the most compelling thing about it is the sense of place. Morgenstern evokes all five senses in her descriptions of the circus, the real main character of the story:
It is these aficionados, these reveurs, who see the details in the bigger picture of the circus. They see the nuance of the costumes, the intricacy of the signs. They buy sugar flowers and do not eat them, wrapping them in paper instead, and carefully bringing them home. They are enthusiasts, devotees. Addicts. Something about the circus stirs their souls, and they ache for it when it is absent.
And it turns out to be a terrific novel to read during the countdown to Halloween. The book perfectly captures the chill in the autumn air and the wonder in the circus-goers eyes as they meander around the miraculous attractions, sipping the most delicious hot spiced cider in the history of the world and munching on sticky caramel popcorn.
If anyone cares to join me, I plan on going to hear Erin Morgenstern talk about her creation at Politics & Prose on Monday, November 7 at 7 p.m. I just wish I had a red scarf to wear.