Adrienne Martini reviews Erin Morgenstern

The advanced reader’s copy of Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus comes with a four-page document tucked inside. Most ARCs have some kind of sexy cover letter tucked in them that talks up the book you are about to open. Usually, there are advanced quotes from big-name writers and useful-but-dull details about price and promotion. The Night Circus is no different in this respect.

What is different is how hyperbolically praised The Night Circus is in its promotional materials. For those who have grown highly resistant to high praise, because we know full well that hype is almost always hollow, these documents make an advanced reader predisposed to dislike what they’re selling. Nothing could be as good as they promise.

Yet The Night Circus is.

It is delightful, in short. It is magical.

The Night Circus does indeed take place in a circus, one where all of the acts, tents, and accessories are black and white, and that only opens its doors after dark. In addition to expected acts, like a contortionist and a lion tamer, Le Cirque des Rêves ventures into the unusual, like a wishing tree and a pool of tears. It is, of course, more than a mere circus that travels through turn-of-the-20th-century Europe and America; it is also a competition arena for two magicians.

These magicians – Celia and Marco – had no say in their enrollment in the battle. Instead, each was promised to the fight as kids and meticulously groomed for the conflict. But neither knows the rules of the game, so they try to top each other by making each new circus exhibit a marvel.

Morgenstern’s story wouldn’t be out of place in a Neil Gaiman collection. It has the same measured tone, gothic-ish sensibility and dry humor. There also seems to be an homage to Gaiman’s bride’s previous profession as a living statue.

Yet Morgenstern’s voice is more feminine than Gaiman’s, in the best ways. There’s more romance here, less menace, and more whimsy than you’d find in the works of the author who most obviously influenced Morgernstern’s style. I know I might be halving Morgenstern’s potential audience by describing her writing as “feminine.” So it goes – and it’s your loss.

When taken with Genevieve Valentine’s circus-set books, The Night Circus may be part of an upcoming circuspunk movement, though it is hard to label something “-punk” when mulled cider is mentioned in it. While circuses have long turned up in fiction, it feels like we’re about to have more of them around than usual, a spike that might be related to Circus, PBS’s documentary about the European-style Big Apple Circus.

As long as each entry remains as captivating as The Night Circus, let the big top stay open.

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One thought on “Adrienne Martini reviews Erin Morgenstern

  • October 3, 2011 at 6:38 am

    I loved it, too. It’s beautiful and stylish and haunting. The love-child of Gaiman and Wilke Collins, perhaps.


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