This book passed by my notice a few months ago when it appeared in a book catalog. It was being promoted, with a few key comments from notable authors and all the usual pre-launch buzz. It intrigued me slightly, but wasn’t enough for it to persist in my memory for long. It wasn’t until it arrived on the cart, ready to be shelved did I give it a second notice, picking it up and taking it home. Even then it wasn’t at the top of my ‘to read’ pile, so I let it wait until I was ready. Now, in the afterglow of reading it, I somewhat regret waiting as long as I did to read it.
I have a few weaknesses when it comes to books. I have a soft-spot for fairy tales and twists on historical fiction. I’m peculiar in my weaknesses, not allowing everything through the gates but rather sifting through what comes to the surface. I like magicians. I like illusionists. I like circuses of old. I like stories of being wrestling with things that are a part of themselves and at the same time are so much bigger.
I will admit that I was wary. I was worried that it would have too many things that I enjoy, but fail in the execution of them. That I would set myself up to love it and wind up slogging my way to the end, feeling tired and exhausted and disgruntled. The fear of disappointment was largely what made me drag my feet. I read the first few pages tentatively, ready to recoil at the slightest sign of a misstep. Ten pages past, then twenty, then fifty. I was hooked, rolling along at the slow boil ready to follow the story where ever it led. As I reached the halfway point, I started to worry about the end. Not whether it would fall apart in the last fifty pages as so many books have done, but whether I was ready for it to end.
The truth was that I wasn’t ready. I wanted to curl up inside the world that this book had created and stay there for forever. I found myself dreaming of this circus. It became a part of me as only the best books can.
I will admit the premise of “two illusionists are set up to compete against one another but end up in love” is a bit hokey. It can so easily become a stereotype, fall into familiar patterns and never surpass them. Such a delicate hand was applied to this that from time to time, I forgot that was how it was being advertised. The story was so lush and full of characters who had their own stories, their own foibles and hopes that it was easy to forget that there was a love story going on. The romance could found in that it wasn’t particularly romantic. It felt more like the love that one has for an idea, for a dream that you try to cling to upon waking but never can get quite right. There were no clear heroes or villains, just people. The Night Circus both reflected life and shrouded it in a mist, making things seem both familiar and far away all that the same time.
This book was a dream, in the best sort of way. While the initial appearance of Bailey confused and irritated me as I tried to figure why we were be giving his take on the circus, I found the revelation to make perfect sense. In a way when the novel finished, the main tale of Marco and Celia came to a close it was also left wonderfully open. You finish the book being left with the promise of possibility. That there is a chance that this circus can come to your town, can change your world if only for a little while.
The novel ends, but the story doesn’t. It doesn’t feel incomplete, but rather like you’re waking from a dream. It was a fairy tale for adults, for those who want to feel like a kid again. I definitely recommend it, even if this is normally your cup of tea. You won’t regret it.