The Night Circus

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern I did think this came close to earning the Goodreads criteria of "amazing" for five stars. I've seen this described as "magical realism" which I tend to have a very mixed reaction to. I hated it in works I read by Allende and Márquez, loved it with Rushdie and Kundera. The Night Circus is more fantasy than just magical realism--it's about magic, and I think that might help. Although it definitely has a literary sensibility and style and you sense that the magic isn't just magic, but is freighted with meaning. Mind you, I don't think of this as all that meaty, and the plot is a bit thin. Think of this as a light, not too sweet confection. What often enchants, as with Harry Potter, is the whimsy and imagination of the details, even if Rowling wasn't capable of descriptions like this: 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. And that gives you the sense of the style of this book about the Circus of Dreams--itself rather dreamlike, written in present tense, in a flitting omniscient, with interludes of second person insisting the reader is there in this wondrous circus visiting the Wishing Tree or Ice Garden or riding the Carousel or visiting the fortune-teller, the contortionist, the illusionist. The plot creaks a bit, the characters aren't the most rounded, but I didn't care. The book read to me like a cross between Erik Larson's The Devil and the White City about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and Joanne Harris' fanciful Chocolat. I greatly enjoyed this fairy tale for grownups.