Have you ever fallen in love with a book? Just found yourself utterly entranced by the world it creates? I think this happens all the time, can actually remember my father some 20 years ago telling me, in rapturous tones reminiscent of a little girl divulging her first crush, about this book series he had just started reading about a boy wizard at a magical boarding school. My mom is going through something similar at the moment with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe books; when she talks about them, I can see that she’s been positively enchanted. As was I the first time I read my favourite book, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. I remember reading that blisteringly tragic final paragraph and then just sitting back in my chair, a melancholy smile playing at the edges of my lips, as I contemplated that weird ache in my chest that felt as though it was caught somewhere between heartbreak and hope.
Which is precisely how I felt when I finished Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, an elegantly languid tale of love, loss and the beauty of the unexplained as set against a mysterious after-hours circus. This was the most beautiful book I think I’ve ever read, and it actually hurt a bit when the gorgeous tale of les Cirques du Reves and its creators, performers and devoted Reveurs drew to a close. At the risk of sounding like a book jacket blurb, I would absolutely run away to join this circus.
On the subject of the story itself, a tale of two magicians whose chess game-like maneuvers play out over decades, sweeping the circus and its inhabitants into their increasingly dangerous orbit, I’m somewhat neutral. It’s a love story, and a deeply satisfying one at that, but for me, this novel is all about the elegant, gothic carnival Morgenstern creates with her Night Circus. This is an all black and white world, stark light-and-dark simplicity against which to highlight the incredible magical feats showcased within. The only colours you’ll find in les Cirques du Reves are the blood red accessories the circus’s travelling fandom wear as a kind of identification, and on opening night, the rainbow-tipped flames in the hulking courtyard cauldron.
If a book could be said to be set designed, then this one has been, to within an inch of its life, and I adore it – I love the more is more is more approach! It’s truly the most evocative novel I think I’ve ever read – I could picture every painted checkerboard floor, every striped canvas tent, every sumptuous midnight dinner menu, every impossibly beautiful feat of the unexplained. And all the credit in the world to Morgenstern for this; she certainly has that Rowlingian flair for world-building. That The Night Circus is her debut novel (the theme in my friends’ reading challenge for which I chose this book in the first place) is incredible; she’s a very gifted writer. And not for nothing, because I’m exactly the kind of person who notices these kinds of things, but this was a beautifully edited book. I can’t tell you how irked I get when I’m pulled out of a great story by some sloppy little editing error. I get so peevish about it, I’ll actually grab a highlighter and aggressively circle it! It’s a real delight to see someone (or someones) take the time and care to get it right the first time.
Because I’ve tasked myself with doing a manicure for each book I read for my friends’ reading challenge, I had to come up with one for The Night Circus. But I couldn’t possibly have limited myself to just one design, not with so much great inspiration right there on the page…so I did five. Actually six, but the sixth was whonkus and not quite what I had intended, so five it is! Here I’ve done manicures inspired by Herr Thiessen’s dreamy courtyard clock, the entrance tunnel of stars, the spiral and checkerboard patterns painted on the ground and – my favourite – Celia’s wishing tree.
The Wishing Tree
And then for good measure, because one does want a hint of colour, even in the midst of a black-and-white circus, I created a design inspired by the wrought iron cauldron in the centre of the courtyard. The cauldron, a centrepiece of the circus in more ways than one, typically burns with stark white flames, but on the circus’s opening night, archers lit the flames with arrows tipped in a rainbow’s worth of rich colours.
Gosh, I loved this book; it was so pretty. Big recommendation if you like a sweeping, slow burn of a love story and uncommonly evocative settings. This one may require another read-through, and soon. 🙂