“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.”
Since I moved back home to Harare one of the biggest things I was missing from my Jozi life, was my book club. Not only did I miss the regular meet-ups with witty and feisty women-folk having very passionate (and usually loud) discussions over a selected book, but I also missed having a new book to read every month.
So I consulted with a friend and we co-founded a book club together here. “The Night Circus” was my pick and the first book of the year. Now even though I am normally a big lover of “out there” and super fantastical books, this one pushed those limits and had me side-eyeing it…many a time.
Just imagine a circus that arrives in your city, unannounced. No heads up via social media or in the local paper. One day it’s there and one day it’s not. Like it literally came out of nowhere. Nobody heard it set-up and it’s only open from 6:00pm to 6:00am, and during the day if you are walking past it, you can’t see or hear anything or anyone moving around in it. Oh and the circus colours are black and white – everything is in black and white. No colour whatsoever.
I’m telling y’all NOW, if that kind of circus suddenly popped up in my city I would NOT be visiting it. For what? For who.? For why?
Shady and ominous travel arrangements and appearances aside, this tale by Erin Morgenstern is one that I found exciting, confusing, exhilarating and frustrating, all at the same time. The two central characters to the story, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, are two very talented individuals who are entered into a competition against each other (against their will) that spans decades and does not involve any direct combative actions. There can only be one victor, and death is the consolation prize for the loser *womp womp*.
Except it’s never really clear who is winning…or what the rules are…or what the point of it all is.
Did I also mention that they are both magicians, like real-life magicians who don’t age (don’t ask, you’re going to have to read to figure out that bit) and all they are doing is spending decade upon decade travelling around in a freaking circus (pun intended) creating amazing acts and performances, that frankly if I was to see in real-life would have me declare, “Oh heck no, I’m out” where upon I be more conscientious in my prayer life.
These gifted individuals have been raised to used their gifts so frivolously and nonsensically and that is the part that made me want to throw this book across the room and shout out loud, “What. Is. The. Point!!!” so many many times.
Couldn’t Celia and Marco’s time and talent have been better suited to whatever issues and concerns were running rampant in 1890-whatever (the time period this novel is set in, by the by)? They could have eradicated the Bubonic plague (or whatever variation of it was hanging around during that time), fight for the abolishment of slavery and free women from that corset-life. They could have conjured up breeds of hypoallergenic cats & dogs, new gastronomical cuisines and the cure for Cancer…and consumption, for goodness sake.
Oh and let’s not forget that outside of Celia and Marco’s conundrum of a life are so many other characters whose lives were roped into this mess of an existence. All for naught. Les Circus des Reves (“The Circus of Dreams”) turned out to be veritable nightmare, with an unresolved and anti-climatic ending.
The reason I picked this book is because it rated so high on all the “Books You Should Read” lists, in the past two years. Sadly, despite it being a hearty first attempt for debut novelist Erin Morgensten, it struck out with me for a gazillion reasons of which only about 3 have I covered in this review.
Who should read it?
Anyone who ever wanted to run away and join the circus. You will be glad you didn’t.
And anyone else who doesn’t quite believe my dramatic declarations and is in the mood for a story with an inconclusive plot-line against a gorgeous, creative background of epic fantastical and visually beautiful proportions.
My Rating: 2 chickens out of 5 (yes, chickens)
Drop me a line in the comments if you’ve read this book, and share your take on it!