Every now and then a book comes along that engages me so thoroughly that I don’t even want to read another book for a while after finishing it. The Night Circus was that book for me; one of the most memorable and unique books I have read in a long time. From its much quoted opening line to the very end, I was enchanted. I loved living inside this book.
And then I got a surprise. Have you heard of Good Reads? I was introduced to Good Reads by an acquaintance, a friend-of-a-friend (whose reading I still follow on Good Reads because she introduced me to a book, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness which was one of those books that come just at a time you need them; I had another friend who was off her meds, and struggling with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder. I didn’t know how to help her. The book helped me understand what she was going through and why she would go off her meds.)
So when my friend invited me to join Good Reads I did. I had started notebook after notebook, trying to keep track of books I’ve read so I could look them up when I needed to recommend them to someone, and here was this wonderful spot where I could record the books I read and keep track of them. Even better, they send me little notes and recommend books they think I will like based on books I have rated – and their recommendations are GOOD!
So when I went to Good Reads to record The Night Circus, I ended up reading other reviews, and discovered that this is a book few are neutral about. Many people love it. There is also a strong contingent who heartily dislike it.
The people who love it, love it for the same reasons that the people who dislike it dislike it. That’s always a shock to me, no matter how experienced I become, no matter how long I live – what? Other people see through different eyes and have different opinions???
To me, The Night Circus is a very sensual book. It has layers and layers of things going on, and, as in real life, you catch glimpses, especially at the beginning, but you don’t really know how these glimpses connect. As you read through the book, the scenes and events you read about earlier start to form a more complete picture, the puzzle pieces start to come together, but you never really know how this puzzle is going to look when it is finished.
For me, each glimpse was a jewel. The Night Circus tackles the nature of existence, what is real, what is a trick of distraction, a manipulation of the laws of the universe or pure deception. It features a contest between two talented men who pit their student against one another in a very long contest.
Each page of the book has layers of textures, scents, flavors, sounds and visions, woven together with the eye of an artist. I love the aromas integrated into the circus, cinnamon caramel apples, hot spiced punch, buttery popcorn, all with elusive and intriguing undertones, scents that you can almost – but not quite – identify. I love the descriptions of the clothing, of the circus tent constructions (there were many) and the sharp discipline of a circus all done in black and white. I loved the music, and the feats of engineering that constructed some of the circus wonders. I loved the artistry of the clock, and the winter garden. I loved the magic of the breathtaking acts, and the humanity of the characters.
Some complain on Good Reads that the descriptions in The Night Circus overshadow the plot. OK. Maybe. The descriptions nourished my imagination, took me on circular routes, just as this novel does. As I read the complaints, I could see a sharp divide between those who want to accomplish, and those who are happy to enjoy the journey. The Night Circus is a journey, in the old tradition of “there is no frigate like a book,” a journey that will take you places you have never been before. Just as I feel when I return from many of our travel adventures, I miss this great exploration of the landscape put forth in The Night Circus.