This month, ladies and gentlemen, we are going to the circus. Erin Morgenstern’s mystical, magical love story set in the luscious world of the Night Circus pairs nicely with Sara Gruen’s gritty, gripping historical novel set in a 1930s circus.
Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel is a jaw-dropping feast for the senses. The Night Circus enters a city at dusk, erects its fantastical tents and takes visitors into a world of dreams. Readers, too, will be ushered into a world of dreams, as Morgenstern artfully unfolds the story between Marco and Celia, two magicians who are fatefully bound to each other. The Night Circus at first appears to be another example of artful illusion, a well-designed magic trick, but as the reader delves deeper, it becomes clear this is not a backdrop for two young Houdinis but for two young sorcerers, two true magicians who must fight ‘the game’ until the end. In fact, everything about this novel is different upon second glance, and, just as the circus holds endless revelations and fascinating illusions, so too do the plot and characters. This is not a straightforward tale, but something complex and remarkable. The novel assesses the place of magic and legends, the existence of which the story takes for granted, and wonders where these fabulous, nearly forgotten, elements can fit into every day life. Critics and early readers have marveled at this novel, and I have to say, I can understand why. It is a journey of wonderment paired with a beautiful love story. I’m thrilled that the movie is already, rumor has it, in the works.
Those of you who are interested in circuses, but shy away from some of the more magical aspects of the reading experience, may be interested in Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants. I read these novels back to back, and I was intrigued by how Erin Morgenstern’s fantasy faded into Sara Gruen’s realistic, unflinching view of a 1930s circus, a place more wild west than magical. Here, the tent is thrown open for all to see what life was like as a member of a ragtag traveling circus, and it was not as wonderful as legend suggests. The circus owners are money-hungry, the animals are ill-treated, prohibited alcohol is hidden amongst the camels (they spit if disturbed, so the federal agents leave their car alone), and there is a strict division between the workers and performers. Still, the food is plentiful, and for Jacob, a young vet attempting to escape from his life, there is Marlena, the beautiful girl who dances with horses. This is a fast-paced jaunt through the small towns of depressed, middle America on a rollicking, barely-legal circus train, and the result is riveting. The characters occasionally feel as though they need to be plumped into the third dimension and the dialogue can sound unconvincing, but the story, and the glimpse into the different world that it gives, makes this novel a great read.