Saturday, April 7, 2012

Book Club: The Night Circus

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 certain which side of the fence is the dream. - Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus)
As we prepared to host bookclub a few months ago I had to put together a list of four books for people to vote on. I had a variety of methods to select the books, but one of the books I put on the voting list I found by looking at the New York Times best seller list. We didn't pick the book at the time, but one of the other members saw the description with excitement and read the book for extra credit.
This past month was her turn to host book club and the book was selected. Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A book about two aged magicians who pick apprentices and bind them against each other in competition. The venue of the latest round of competition was the Night Circus (Le Cirque des RĂªves).
I really enjoy books about magic where the practitioners are called magicians (not wizards, mages, spell casters, ...) and I was really impressed with the magic as being truly magical an a fanciful, mysterious and imaginative way. It is such a wonderful contrast to the very pedestrian magic of the Harry Potter series in which the take on the magical world is similar to the Flinstone's take on the stone age world: take all the things modern man uses technology for and mindlessly replace it with a boring magical equivalent that has a latin-y word associated with it. This is not the magic of The Night Circus where there are cloud mazes, stories in bottles and gardens made entirely of ice. The magic is almost real. Almost.
The book was also full of little touches. One of the characters was the tarot card reader of the circus and she would often flip a few cards as part of other activities going on. I was intrigued that the author rarely explained what the cards meant. She just matter-of-factly described a card flipped as the querent, the card that covers and the card that crosses, and then provided no interpretation. I read tarot quite a lot during the end of high school and start of college and have a decent memory of the major arcana. I was constantly impressed. The author, clearly understanding tarot, would lay out major plot themes with the cards and leave the foreshadowing available only to someone who understand what the meant or maybe bothered to look it up. The Hanging Man, crossed by Temperance. Yes, I can see what lies in your future.
Fun read. Though, I think in the grand scheme of things, you should wait for the movie. Though I know it won't be, I would sure like to see Tim Burton do this with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. That would be quite a show.
The theme of the book, two magicians of different philosophies battling over which philosophy is better, reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Overall I preferred Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, but it falls victim to the problem of being an amazing five-hundred page book trapped in one-thousand pages. I remember during the second half of the book as I was devouring it, reading and anticipating and excited, that I kept saying to myself "now remember when you recommend this book to other how incredibly bored you were by it for the first half. Don't forget how incredibly bored by it you were for the first half." So fair warning that if you are up someone who can read giant volumes, this book is amazing - once you finish it. Definitely if you're a voracious reader, go for this one.