Happy New Year! Before I start into my review, I wanted to mention a special event that took place in the lives of the Pen Warriors this month. As some of you may know, we came together as a group in 2001 and we’ve been meeting on a quarterly basis ever since. What you may not know is that this weekend we celebrated our 50th Red Door writing retreat!
50! I’m not sure even we thought we’d reach such a milestone when we started out 14 years ago, but we have and while a lot has changed in our lives, what hasn’t is our commitment to getting together four times a year to talk about all things writerly. And, hopefully, to become better storytellers in the bargain. Way to go Pen Warriors!
So, this week, I wanted to talk about THE NIGHT CIRCUS, a 2011 debut novel by Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday Canada). It’s an unusual story told in an unusual way but it appealed to my love of all things magical and hooked me with an intriguing beginning. Please note, I have quoted snippets from the opening pages rather than a continuous string, the first two being from the section entitled Anticipation, and the third from Part I, Primordium: Unexpected Post:
“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
Even in these opening lines, there is a suggestion of magic. A tantalizing promise cleverly woven into the writing about a circus that springs up overnight and that no one seems to know is coming…
“It is impressive and unusual news, the sudden appearance of a mysterious circus. People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe. And the black sign painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, the one that reads:
Opens at Nightfall, Closes at Dawn.
Opens at nightfall? What kind of circus operates only at night? What goes on in those black and white tents and what secrets are concealed behind the wrought iron gates that magically swing open at dusk? At this point, I don’t know, but I’m definitely going to keep reading to find out.
And then, a few pages later, we start into the story:
The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl.
There are several concepts in this opening that drew me in. The character’s name, the arrival of a suicide note and the fact it was delivered on—and not by—a five-year old girl. Innocence caught up in a world of smoke and mirrors. Or is it…?
THE NIGHT CIRCUS doesn’t open with pulse pounding action or sparkling dialogue. Rather, it is a thoughtful and evocative narrative that draws the reader in. It asks questions and in reading on, you soon discover that Le Cirque des Rêves, or circus of dreams, is a mystical place where bizarre things happen and anything is possible. More importantly, it is a story about the power of magic and the complexity of love—or sometimes the reverse.
I look forward to seeing THE NIGHT CIRCUS on the big screen and while I wonder if the production crew will be able to replicate the ethereal quality of the writing, I expect it to be a visual treat.