The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
This is the concept of The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern: a unique, wonderful concept… unfortunately wasted on a totally insipid story, with flat and uninteresting characters. It is like an undercooked Indian curry where the gravy is good but the masala has not had the time to fix itself on the meat and vegetable pieces.The Concept
The Night Circus, or Le Cirque des Reves
(“The Circus of Dreams”) opens at night and closes at dawn. It does not have the structure of a traditional circus, nor the standard attractions: rather, it is divided into a variety of stalls featuring a variety of entertainments, most of them magical. An eternal bonfire keeps on burning in the front, and a technological marvel of a clock keeps on ticking away the time. Customers wander along the enchanted alleyways between the tents, most of them in a daze, until the attraction closes at dawn.
The circus moves from place to place without any kind of plan or schedule. There is absolutely no publicity other than the hardy bunch of diehard enthusiasts known as the reveurs
, who manage to keep themselves apprised of the circus’ movement across the globe and inform compatriots through word of mouth.
For those are part of the circus itself, it seems that time is at a standstill and they exist in limbo, as they do not grow old.
To bring this concept to life, Erin Morgenstern has concocted a story of a magical duel between two participants, one male and one female, who (surprise, surprise!) fall in love with each other-which unfortunately, over the course of around 500 drawn-out pages, kills it flat.The Story
Hector Bowen (also known as Prospero the Enchanter) and Alexander are two magicians who have been competing with one another over a number of years, through trained protégés (who do not know who their opponent is): however, this time Hector is sure that he has an edge, because his daughter Celia is born with magical powers, whereas Marco, Alexander’s pupil, is only trained. The Night Circus is created by Chandresh Christophe Lefevre, a wealthy dilettante, at Alexander’s subtle influence. Celia is employed at the circus while Marco works as Chandresh’s secretary. Thus the contestants are near and far enough for a proper competition.
As the circus moves from town to town, the protagonists slowly learn each other’s identity and then predictably fall in love (with the obligatory scene of a kiss which shakes foundations and shatters lights – yuck!): at the same time, the other characters carry on with their lives without much happening, except for Tara burgess who dies in an accident (?) and Herr Thiessen, the clock-maker, who is killed by mistake, as the story winds to its predictable end. The circus starts unwinding when the contest is called off. It can be saved only by Bailey, farm boy from Massachusetts who has been seduced by the magic of the circus and one feels, also by Poppet Murray, the wild-cat tamer’s daughter. Of course, all ends well (no spoiler warning required for this!)
The author ends her book with the following passage:You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Reves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite sure which side of the fence is the dream.
This could have happened, had the story matched up to the concept. As it happened, I only felt confused and strangely let down. I couldn’t care less what happened to Celia, Marco or the Night Circus - and I was even less interested in the host of other characters and their zombie-like existence in the novel.
Concept – 5 stars.
Story & Characterisation – 1 star.
Total Score – (5+1)/2 = 3 stars.