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The Night Circus Paperback – July 3, 2012
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Q&A with Author Erin Morgenstern
Q. This is a lovely and unique story. Why a circus? How did this story first come to you—through a character, a plotline, an emotion?
A. The story came as a location created out of desperation. I was working on a different story altogether, one that was becoming progressively more and more boring because nothing was happening. I needed something exciting to happen and I couldn't figure out how to do it with the locations I had so I sent the characters to the circus. That circus was immediately much more interesting and eventually I abandoned that other story and its characters entirely and focused on the circus instead. What eventually became The Night Circus started from exploring that spontaneously-created location, figuring out who created it and who performed in it and what its story was.
Q. What was your inspiration for some of the amazing acts in this circus?
A. Some of them were traditional circus acts or attractions made a bit more unique, like the acrobats performing directly overhead or the carousel that doesn't simply go in circles. The Cloud Maze is a play on a climbing maze I hazily recall from childhood visits to the Boston Children's Museum. Other tents were created based on color, or lack thereof. I had a lot of dark tents and wanted something lighter and white, the Ice Garden developed from that relatively simple starting point.
Q. Do you have a favorite character?
A. It's impossible to pick a true favorite, though Poppet & Widget are very dear to my heart as they're the first of the characters to turn up in my imagination. They're also just plain fun, both individually and as a pair.
Q. What was the most challenging aspect of developing this story?
A. It didn't have a plot for a very long time. Really, my biggest challenge was finding the actual story within all the atmosphere. I had the place and the characters and the feel of the book long before it had a proper story structure to tie everything together. The novel went through a great many revisions before it figured out what it wanted to be, I tried things that didn't work and then things that sort of worked and replaced old ideas with new ones until I got it right.
Q. Is there an emotion that you had to spend a lot of time with that made you uncomfortable?
A. I'm an emotional sort of person in general and I have a vivid imagination, so I feel the whole spectrum of emotion strongly when I write. It's something I'm used to, though, so nothing in particular made me uncomfortable. There is a lot of frustration felt by various characters, which is not the nicest emotion to be spending a lot of time with, but it helps to drive characters to actions which bring different emotions along.
Q. Tell me about your writing life. Do you have any rituals?
A. I binge write. I think it's because I started seriously writing by participating in National Novel Writing Month, an online-based challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. I don't have as tight a time limit anymore but I still write in long marathon sessions and then I won't write for a while, I'm not a write-every-day writer. I go back and forth between input phases where I'm reading a lot or trying to get out and explore the world a bit and soak up inspirations and then I'll get back into output mode and write and write and write.
I don't have any particular rituals, I sometimes like to write in longhand when I'm searching for ideas but I do the vast majority by typing, I can't always keep up with my thoughts longhand. I'm not a coffeeshop writer because I feel obliged to order more coffee and then I end up over-caffeinated.
Q. What's the one true thing you learned from your characters in this novel?
A. I think it's something that I knew already but explored more with these characters, that nothing is as simple as black or white, good or evil. There are all those shades of grey and everyone acts from a place that they see as right and true. (Though they are allowed to change their minds.)
“Magical. Enchanting. Spellbinding. Mesmerizing.” —Associated Press
“Erin Morgenstern has created the circus I have always longed for and she has populated it with dueling love-struck magicians, precocious kittens, hyper-elegant displays of beauty and complicated clocks. This is a marvelous book.” —Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife
“Get ready to be won over. . . . Part love story, part fable, and a knockout debut. . . . So sparklingly alive, you’ll swear the pages are breathing in your hands. . . . The Night Circus defies both genres and expectations.” —The Boston Globe
“A riveting debut. The Night Circus pulls you into a world as dark as it is dazzling, fully-realized but still something out of a dream. You will not want to leave it.” —Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife
“The Night Circus is the real deal, the kind of novel that will appeal to romantics, history buff, circus aficionados, mystery fans, and lovers of a good story. . . . Steeped in circus lore, filled with evocative scenes of magic and illusion, enriched by characters as varied as the clockmaker who crafted the circus’s iconic timepiece . . . The Night Circus is worth staying up for.” —Bookreporter
“One of the best books I have ever read.” —Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader
“[A] few pages in . . . and you know you are in the presence of an extraordinary storyteller.” —The Daily Beast
“Echoing the immense pleasure of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Night Circus presents a sprightly version of 19th-century English magic. . . . A love story for adults that feels luxuriously romantic.” —The Washington Post
“Dark and extravagantly imagined.” —People
“Pure pleasure. . . . Erin Morgenstern is a gifted, classic storyteller, a tale-teller, a spinner of the charmed and mesmerizing—I had many other things I was supposed to be doing, but the book kept drawing me back in and I tore through it. You can be certain this riveting debut will create a group of rêveurs all its own.” —Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
“[Morgenstern] employs her supple prose to conjure up a series of wonders: A maze made of clouds, a ship of books floating on a sea of ink, a tent that seems to contain a vast desert.” —Salon
“Reading this novel is like having a marvelous dream, in which you are asleep enough to believe everything that is happening, but awake enough to relish the experience and understand that it is magical.” —Newsday
“Morgenstern’s exquisitely realized world will have [you] wishing to run off and join the circus.” —USA Today
“Morgenstern’s novel feels crafted from the fabric of a dream, and the circus itself never fails to astound. For me, the only real disappointment was that I couldn’t buy a ticket.” —Yvonne Zip, The Christian Science Monitor
“Ladies and Gentlemen! Step right up and prepare to be enchanted. . . . [Will] make you sit right down on the floor of your library or bookstore to see what Morgenstern conjures up next.” —Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“The Night Circus is a gorgeously imagined fable poised in the high latitudes of Hans Christian Anderson and Oscar Wilde, with a few degrees toward Hesse’s Steppenwolf for dangerous spice. The tale is masterfully written and invites allegorical interpretations even as its leisurely but persistent suspense gives it compelling charm. An enchanting read.” —Katherine Dunn, author of Geek Love
“A Victorian curio cabinet. . . . In The Night Circus, Morgenstern makes the artificial real, turning atmosphere into art.” —Kansas City Star
“The world of The Night Circus is elaborately designed, fantastically imagined and instantly intoxicating—as if the reader had downed a glass of absinthe and leapt into a hallucination.” —Rachel Syme, NPR
“[A] dazzling foray into the dreamscape of illusion.” —Family Circle
“Every once in awhile you find a novel so magical that there is no escaping its spell. The Night Circus is one of these rarities—engrossing, beautifully written and utterly enchanting. If you choose to read just one novel this year, this is it.” —Danielle Trussoni, author of Angelology
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If you like Harry Potter, you'll probably like this, though it is very different.
If you, like me, adore this book and are looking for something else to read, go try Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, and it's sequel Court Duel.
If you want another wonderful way to experience this book: listen to the audiobook. It's read by Jim Dale, and it is magic.
The book's great surprise is its description of the Night Circus and its many wonders. Having read Bradbury, Barker, Sturgeon and Stephen King, I was prepared for something in the Evil Carnival line. This circus isn't like that at all, but full of wonderful magics that delight the senses and open the mind. Readers will not be surprised that two such brilliant necromancers are equal to all the challenges they face.
I'd have given this book 5 stars, except that the plot and characters--while good--never quite reached the great heights of the magic. I'd put this book on a par with Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels, or Barker's The Thief of Always.
The story is complex and twisty. It takes place between 1873-1903 and moves back and forth in time and across the US and Europe. Two "magicians," Prospero and Alexander each take on a young charge and teach them to be the best. Prospero works with his daughter Celia while Alexander adopts a young boy named Marco. Marco and Celia are bound to each other, though they do not meet for some years. They are pitted against each other in a contest but are given no guidelines. A strange man named Chandresh forms a circus and this becomes their venue. Marco and Celia, sometimes with the help of a few of Chandresh's associates, construct elaborate tents full of wonder and magic. The circus arrives and departs without warning. Celia and Marco eventually meet and fall in love. They start to piece together details of the contest and the horrible and inevitable outcome. Can they stop the challenge that will destroy them?
It is difficult to sum up the plot and do it justice. It is so much more nuanced and engaging than what I just wrote. I found the book hard to put down. The main criticism of this book appears to be a lack of character development. That is true, but fairy tales are plot driven and evocative. I can't recall a fairy tale that is a character study. I really hope that people will give this book a try. Ms. Morgenstern has an enviable imagination. Her writing is detailed and gorgeous--you feel like you are actually at the circus, experiencing the magic and mystery. I want to believe that the wonders of The Night Circus really exist.