July 2, 2013

Book Review: The Night Circus

I've discovered that the first week of a teacher's summer break can be a restless, wily thing. I'm so used to having one million things to do that both body and mind had forgotten how to cope with relaxation time. Every time I sat down, I felt guilty. Surely I should be DOING something. I couldn't even write, my mind was so fractured. It seemed to want to run around, trying to cover as much ground as it could.

Now, it's not that I'm complaining. It's just that my beginning-of-summer frame of mind made it difficult for me to find the right book to read. I needed something smart and articulate and emotionally weighty, but also something that would grip my mind and hold onto it.

The Night Circus gave me all of that. In fact, it gave me more. I was fairly bowled over by this beautiful, surprising novel. It was so many of the things I love in a story: lyrical and a little eccentric, with a captivating voice and a lot of stop-and-write-it-down worthy one liners. It also has love and travel and magic, a combination I'm bound to get excited about.

At its heart, The Night Circus is about a grand competition constructed by two long-time rival magicians who have different opinions about how magic should be done. It is based in our world (circa 1890), but also creates its own world within the confines of an strange and beautiful circus created as a backdrop for the game. As the magicians' two players grow older and the circus they've helped create becomes more complex, they fall in a love that wreaks all kinds of beautiful havoc on everyone involved. The story spans so many lives and years, weaving together a multitude of narrative threads in a way that is riveting, and which feels effortless. Not only that, but the author uses second person in a really interesting way: she makes the reader a part of the circus by putting them within it.

Another thing I love about this novel is the way she makes her setting a character. The circus almost jumps off of the page, so tangible and lovely that I slowed down my reading so I couldn't delay finishing it.

This book isn't like anything I've ever read. But if I had to draw comparisons, I'd say it had me thinking of Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange, with a sprinkling of Jane Austen and the same magical allure as Harry Potter, although it was very different than all of those.

This is one of those books that's next to impossible to describe, really, other than to say it's one of the best books I've read in a while.

Music I'm Writing To: "Lifeforms" by Daughter