I have this recurring dream. It isn’t a nightmare; it’s actually a lot of fun (except for the one with the corpses, but we won’t talk about that). In the dream, I’m in a house. I head to one room and find that there’s a labyrinth of rooms tucked away behind it. The rooms are usually of increasing size and varying color, theme, and style. Some rooms have whole apartments in them, kitchens and balconies like hotel suites, or small beds all in a line as though laid out for a number of children. Sometimes there are gardens in secret courtyards or hidden treasures in dark corners. In the end the inside of the house turns out to be far bigger than it looked on the outside.
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is a lot like that recurring dream. It’s a labyrinth of sets and scenes and characters, each one introduced slowly and with great care. The story is secondary to exploration. Discovery and mysterious whimsy are more vital than characters. It plays out like a new world, all folded up like origami and found in the shape of a book.
For me, Reading The Night Circus was not unlike reading The Monsters of Templeton (without the nightmarish ending). The narrative was rich and full and delicious. But at some point I wanted the book to end, I think because I had the same feeling all the way through. I never became angry or elated for any of the characters. I only ever felt a kind of pleasant dreaminess, which was lovely, but exhausting after a while.
That said, I loved the book overall. It’s not a story to be read so much as experienced. The sights and sounds and smells—the whole flavor of the circus is so vivid, I wished I could have visited it myself. And I did like Marco and Celia and Baily and Poppet and Widget and all the other characters that won me over in the long run.
The Night Circus was a fantastic experience, in the truest sense. And while my sad state of an attention span often struggled with it, I’m glad I read it.