15 clowns get out of a car and i run away: reading the night circus

Five out of seven days a week I give serious thought to running away and joining the circus—the other two I spend packing, regardless of the fact that I am not nearly coordinated enough to juggle, my jokes are awful and my one wild beast is neither wild nor a beast—he’s a dog with a lot of back fat and a severe case of textbook narcissism.

Nonetheless, I love the idea of the circus—endless junk food, big lights, clowns, monkeys with cymbals … it’s like the inside of my head in a big tent, what more could you want!

Combining the beauty of circus escapism into a world of uncannily colourful monochromes, Erin Morgenstern’s semi-youth fiction novel The Night Circus achieves all these wacky, beautiful things in spectacular style.

Any dedicated bookworm will tell you how rare it is to find a book that you don’t want to end—not a book that you look forward to reading again, but one where you truly dread turning the final page knowing that once it is turned, there won’t be as much magic the next time round.

The Night Circus is one of those books.

As much as I dislike the idea of unattainably beautiful teens biting each other and being frustrated, The Night Circus reinvents the youth genre with new characters, beautiful fairytale-esque storytelling, stunning craft and best of all—no vampires.

Truthfully, though, I struggled a little at first, mostly because of the strange choice of using a combination of present tense and second person narration.

This was a bit of a challenge—mostly because I think we have become happy to just accept past tense narration, so when something new comes along, we fight it … that and second person narration seems to have that undeniable connection to those awful choose-your-own-adventures that no-one ever finds, but seem to haunt us at every turn.

What I came to realise quite quickly is the narration works for the story in a way that a lot of novels struggle to pull off, offering this delicious immediacy and wackiness to the whole work.

It threw the whole story ever so slightly out of balance—real, but not quite—in a way that only a circus seems to be able to do and made even the most clichéd plot turns lovely for their familiarity.

If you have a tendency to put down youth fiction at the first mention of magic for fear of confronting some god-awful Twilight knock-off where the moral seems to always boil down to high school getting easier so long as you have a complexion vaguely resembling a shiny granite bench top in the morning sunlight, there is only one answer:

Read The Night Circus.

Resist the urge to throw this one out the window with the obligatory and resolute “Bad, bad beans!”

It is brilliant, stunning, and cheeky and precisely the book I wanted to find when we started the Red Chair Review.

While I maintain youth fiction is still a bit of a cesspit of profoundly overdone ideas, I cannot recommend The Night Circus highly enough for making the youth market more accessible.

It is stunning, escapist, extravagant and sexy—one I will be returning to very soon.


Sending you Vaseline and fishing wire from the friend who makes you wonder how they fit 15 clowns in that tiny little car …



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