Summary and book reviews of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

A Novel

By Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2011,
    400 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2012,
    400 pages.

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Book Summary

Rated Best Debut Novel of 2011 by BookBrowse Members

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway - a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love - a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

ANTICIPATION

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.

The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.

But it is not open for business. Not just yet.

Within hours everyone in town has heard about it. By afternoon the news has spread several towns over. Word of mouth is a more effective method of advertisement than typeset words and exclamation points on paper pamphlets or posters. It is impressive and ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The novel opens with a quote from Oscar Wilde: "A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world." How is this sentiment explored in The Night Circus? Who in the novel is a dreamer? And what is their punishment for being so?

  2. The novel frequently changes narrative perspective. How does this transition shape your reading of the novel and your connection to the characters and the circus? Why do you think the author chose to tell the story from varied perspectives?

  3. The narrative also follows a non-linear sequence - shifting at times from present to past. How effective was this method in regards to revealing conflict in the novel?

  4. There are a number of ...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2011

Reviews

BookBrowse

24 BookBrowse members read The Night Circus, giving it an overall rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 - our highest rating ever for a First Impressions book (out of more than 250 books reviewed to date)! Here's what they have to say:

The prose is beautiful but not too simplistic, the fantasy images are easily understood and vivid - almost real. The descriptive narrative is so clear and concise that your mind slips easily into the circus at night - and with such intensity it's startling (Louise J). I find myself staring into space remembering parts of this wonderful book and not wanting to come back (Arleen L). Thank you to Ms. Morgenstern for reminding me why I am a reader (Debbie V)!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews
Sheryl Cotleur, Book Passage

Reading a novel like this is like being asked to come out and play - exhilarating! [The Night Circus] is smart, inventive, creative, thoughtful, wise, pleasurable, and imaginative beyond measure. This is a fantastic story.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Debut novelist Morgenstern has written a 19th-century flight of fancy that is, nevertheless, completely believable. The smells, textures, sounds, and sights are almost palpable.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Self-assured, entertaining debut that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic… Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book - and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

Booklist

Starred Review. This big and... compelling first novel ushers in a menacing tone with its first sentence. With appeal for readers not particularly geared to fantasy but who plainly enjoy an unusual and well-drawn story, this one will make a good crossover suggestion.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Debut author Morgenstern doesn't miss a beat in this smashing tale of greed, fate, and love set in a turn of the 20th-century circus. Supporting characters... are perfectly realized and live easily in a giant, magical story destined for bestsellerdom. This is an electric debut on par with Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

Author Blurb Sheryl, Shelf Awareness
It's imaginative beyond belief. I haven't read a book in years that is this imaginative and completely plausible.

Author Blurb Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife
The Night Circus made me happy. Playful and intensely imaginative, Erin Morgenstern has created the circus I have always longed for and she has populated it with dueling love-struck magicians, precocious kittens, hyper-elegant displays of beauty and complicated clocks. This is a marvelous book.

Author Blurb Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger's Wife
A riveting debut. The Night Circus pulls you into a world as dark as it is dazzling, fully-realized but still something out of a dream. You will not want to leave it.

Author Blurb Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Pure pleasure... Erin Morgenstern is a gifted, classic storyteller, a tale-teller, a spinner of the charmed and mesmerizing - I had many other things I was supposed to be doing, but the book kept drawing me back in and I tore through it. You can be certain this riveting debut will create a group of rêveurs all its own.

Lindsey McGuirk, Village Books in Bellingham

Reading this book made my heart flutter. It feels like the first time you see the night sky completely void of light pollution. Reading it is like being surrounded by lightning bugs. I felt like a child seeing an amusement park for the first time. I adore this book.

Jamie Fiocco, Flyleaf Books

A reader's trifecta! I don't know what to love the most; the captivating story, the richly detailed lives and trappings of the players, or the thoughts I'm left with now that the reading is done. I'm so impressed with Erin Morgenstern's powers of imagination and her storytelling. What a treat!

Reader Reviews
toots_o_toole

Disappointing conclusion
The bulk of this book has delightful descriptions full of rich and delicious prose. I was one of those readers that didn't want the book to end...alas it did end and the ending was perfectly awful. It was as if the author ran out of steam and just ...   Read More

Emily

Circus Magic
The book was magical for me. I really enjoyed the descriptions and even more so enjoyed letting my imagination run off with Erin Morgenstern's descriptions. A magical book that any true dreamer would be able to enjoy. I can somehow understand how ...   Read More

Fitzeagle

Did we read the same book?
I really didn't like this book. Yes, the descriptive prose is beautiful (would it surprise you to know the author is first and foremost a painter?). But there is no story, little plot, no character development and an unnecessarily confusing timeline....   Read More

Tillie H

Magic vs reality
A wonderful book where magic and reality are blended together. The reader is quickly drawn in to the uniqueness of the circus, as well as the lives of Celia and Marco and the contest they must complete. Drawn together by a bond that was forced upon ...   Read More

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Shakespearean Themes in The Night Circus

The use of magical motifs in Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, helps make it a unique and fascinating read. William Shakespeare But the literary device is by no means new. Magic can be found in some of the oldest, most revered pieces of literature throughout history, as in William Shakespeare's The Tempest. In fact, his play served as an inspiration for Morgenstern's novel.

In The Night Circus, Prospero the Enchanter maintains a magical persona and attempts to control his daughter's life, much like his namesake in The Tempest, who has the ability to call on spirits and charm his daughter Miranda to sleep.

When confronted with these similarities in an interview with TribLive, Morgenstern admitted that her story shares various ...

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