Genre: literary/magical realism
Celia and Marco have trained their entire lives for an epic duel set up by their instructors, and the black-and-white Night Circus is the magical battle field. Despite their growing love for each other, leaving the fight is physically impossible, and only one of them can win.
This is one of very few books I've read that hurtled towards such a terrible ("terrible" as in "depressing", not "badly-written") end that I couldn't even begin to imagine how the author would resolve it. And then she did, and it wasn't tragic or ridiculous or eye-roll-inducing. It just made perfect sense. The world-building was amazing. And the magic seems to have no discernible rules, and yet feels completely believable.
The Night Circus is…enchanting. There’s a magical quality to the writing that fits the story and makes it all feel otherworldly. I hesitate to say too much, because the beauty of this book is so specific. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but it will probably appeal strongly to the people who like it. I think it deserves the accolades, but as evidenced by Goodreads and other places where people write reviews, many people read the accolades first, assumed it would be like other books that have made waves in recent years, and then read it and thought, “Really? This?”
So I highly recommend this book, but no description is going to be quite right. It’s set in the late Victorian era for the most part, but it’s not really about historical or steampunk elements. It’s got magic in it, but it wouldn’t fit on a fantasy shelf. We watch Celia and Marco grow up, but it’s not a coming-of-age novel. It’s just beautiful, absorbing, and wholly its own story.
Tangent: I've heard a lot about the tortured artists who supposedly make up the bulk of the writing world, the people who suffer for their craft and whatnot. I have to say Erin Morgenstern is my idea of what a writer would be if I were making one up. She's quirky and adorable and takes cool pictures and says cool things and does cool stuff. Authors tend to be very...normal. Which is not at all surprising. It just doesn't fit with the popular narrative. Oscar Wilde and J.D. Salinger and the like were so unusual that they've come to define what people picture when they think "writer". I'd rather picture people like Morgenstern.
In a recent blog post, she wrote this passing comment:
In two hotel rooms on my tour the concierge left a bottle of wine and two glasses. I still cannot decide if it would be more or less depressing to have a single glass. Which one is a harsher reminder that you’re alone?
Something about that comment reminded me of how I felt while reading portions of her book. It made me smile, it made me think, and it made me sad.