Attempting to read book two of the All Souls Trilogy was killing me. The first one was actually pretty OK, but as I delved into the second, I found it to be such a chore — and reading should never be a chore.
I was desperate for something to save me from that drab novel, and I’m so glad I picked out The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern from my to-read pile, because it’s everything I needed. It was magical, delightful and an absolute treat.
I devoured this book about three days, because it was not only addicting, but also a perfect way to escape a quite stressful workweek.
I think I might just split up this quick review into my three favorite aspects of the novel.
Time travel: We switch between different dates throughout the book. Normally I hate this sort of literary tale. I don’t want to know what happens next, I want to know what happens as the characters do, in real time.
This book changed that for me. There aren’t ever any spoilers, really, and you don’t know how things end. Each page manages to make the mystery grow more somehow, as you get to know a fascinating set of characters.
The time traveling also matches the theme of the book in a way, as every preconceived notion you might have is unraveled as you go on.
“The most difficult thing to read is time. Maybe because it changes so many things.”
Narration: Morgenstern managed to make me fall in love with third-person. Normally I crave first-person, save for a few amazing exceptions, but I can’t imagine this book being told in another way. You are an outside observer into this magical world, like you’re watching it play out on a stage, or like you’re scrying, staring at their worlds and perspectives through a foggy, curved crystal ball.
And then she switches to second-person periodically throughout the book, which is my absolute favorite part. You yourself are attending the circus, seeing the oddities, smelling the caramel popcorn in the air, feeling the eerie yet intriguing wonders around you. You get to explore different tents, different acts, different mysteries, all clad in brilliant black and white, as the story unfolds around your visit to Le Cirque des Rêves.
All the while the “dreamlike” masterpiece of a clock designed by my favorite character, Herr Friedrick Thiessen, ticks on.
Diction: Perhaps the best part of this book is the way Morgenstern weaves words together that ultimately create a dreamlike tapestry themselves. Her word choice often fresh, mesmerizing and perfect for the moment. Let’s look at the beautiful clock from earlier, shall we?
“The finished clock is resplendent. At first glance it is simply a clock, a rather large black clock with a white face and a silver pendulum. Well crafted, obviously, with intricately carved woodwork edges and a perfectly painted face, but just a clock.
But that is before it is wound. Before it begins to tick, the pendulum swinging steadily and evenly. Then, then it becomes something else.
The changes are slow. First, the color changes in the face, shifts from white to grey, and then there are clouds that float across it, disappearing when they reach the opposite side.Meanwhile, bits of the body of the clock expand and contract, like pieces of a puzzle. As though the clock is falling apart, slowly and gracefully.
All of this takes hours.
The face of the clock becomes a darker grey, and then black, with twinkling stars where numbers had been previously. The body of the clock, which has been methodically turning itself inside out and expanding, is now entirely subtle shades of white and grey. And it is not just pieces, it is figures and objects, perfectly carved flowers and planets and tiny books with actual paper pages that turn. There is a silver dragon that curls around part of the now visible clockwork, a tiny princess in a carved tower who paces in distress, awaiting an absent prince. Teapots that pour into teacups and minuscule curls of steam that rise from them as the seconds tick. Wrapped presents open. Small cats chase small dogs. An entire game of chess is played.
At the center, where a cuckoo bird would live in a more traditional timepiece, is the juggler. Dress in harlequin style with a grey mask, he juggles shiny silver balls that correspond to each hour. As the clock chimes, another ball joins the rest until at midnight he juggles twelve balls in a complex pattern.
After midnight, the clock begins once more to fold in upon itself. The face lightens and the cloud returns. The number of juggled balls decreases until the juggler himself vanishes. By noon it is a clock again, and no longer a dream.”
Whenever I finish the last page in a book and close it, feeling melancholy and contemplative, that’s the sign of a good book finished. I set the novel on my nightstand and stared at the ceiling for a while after, thinking about time and magic, things unseen but felt.
Then I drifted off to sleep, dreaming in black and white.