Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This story is set in, as you may have guessed, a circus. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves. As the title suggests, it opens only at night and arrives without warning. Within its black-and-white striped tents is a magical and utterly unique experience. The descriptions of the setting was the main focus of this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style.

Behind the scenes, our protagonists Celia and Marco are dueling by creating exhibits in the circus. They have been trained in magic since childhood for this contest. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, they fall in love and set off dangerous consequences for everyone involved in the circus, from the performers to the patrons.

This is not a plot-driven story and doesn’t have any character development. The setting is what shines and makes for a great reading experience. I’m not someone who enjoys descriptive prose, but this book was a treat to the senses. This could be due to the author’s writing style, my changes in preference or the effect of quarantine.

Reading this book felt like revisiting the village festivals from my childhood (called thiruvizha and mela in local languages). The writing disobeys the popular “show, don’t tell” rule, which seemed to enrich the experience for me. The lines written in the second person made me visualize the rich details of the circus and take in the whiffs of caramelized popcorn and perfume. It made me imagine the setting so vividly that it felt like I was strolling around in the Night Circus, existing along with the characters.

The timeline jumps were confusing for me because I didn’t pay attention to the dates and didn’t realize it was a non-linear narration till almost half of the book. By the end of the book, I found this apt because one of the themes seen repeatedly is how timing is difficult to predict or understand. Then again, it could be the quarantine making it difficult for me to grasp things easier.

This is the book to read when you miss going outside due to the pandemic and want to feel like you are attending a carnival. I would recommend reading this slowly and taking in the aesthetics to enjoy this book.

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