The Essence of Dreams (A Book Review of The Night Circus)

*May contain slight spoilers

What are dreams but mere ideas? Ideas that take up a life of their own, growing in proportions, intensity, detail. The are the fruit of imagination, the culmination of what our subconscious mind ponders on. But the experience of a dream -- in our heads, or even in our sleep -- can't stand true in reality. Like two sides of the same coin, they are distinctively different, yet sometimes impossible to discern.

The Night Circus, a novel written by Erin Morgernstern brilliantly blurs the line between dreams and reality. It is a story about magic, a game and the attraction between two magicians caught in the middle of it all: Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair, two proteges of two very different magicians.

Celia is the daughter of Hector Bowen, who passes his powers off as simple illusions, perfoming magic tricks in stages across a number of countries as Prospero the Enchanter. Celia comes to him unexpectedly, dropped off to him after her mother had committed suicide. He sees potential in her abilities straight away. He believe magic is something you are born with, a natural talent for those who are lucky enough to possess it. His methods are unorthodox, sometimes cruel in training her. He comes across as a very uncompassionate father.

Marco is taken under the wing of a Mr. Alexander, the enigmatic type of character, whose past and last name remains quite undisclosed to the reader. He believes magic is something that can be taught, and pushes Marco to read and practice in solitude albeit in very luxurious conditions.

The two master magicians, being 'close friends', make a bet; a dangerous one they have made before and are willing to make again. They will pit their pupils against one another, in a clash of magic, to see who is better.

And so Le Cirque de Revěs is born. Being translated as The Circus of Dreams it "opens at nightfall" and "closes at dawn". Here, Celia and Marco use their magic to build the most impossible attractions. From a circus tent that holds a maze of clouds you can climb and jump on, a carousel of creatures that fly through the stars, what they create elicits awe and disbelieve from the circus-goers -- all of which are oblivious to the existence of magic.

What I love most about the book is Erin Morgenstern's very descriptive style of writing. All the magical details that come to make her creations of the impossible are fully conveyed to the reader. The book is beautifully written and jumps at the senses, from sights to smells, even tastes. It's the little things, the tiniest of details that really sticks into your mind, enhances the experience of immersing yourself in the prose that you feel like you're going through it all yourself.

Closing the book, feels like waking up from a dream. You know that it could never happen, but your heart aches and wishes that it could be somehow true.

Plot-wise, I think it was just perfect. I've heard some people complain about that the pacing is too slow, the story isn't that clever or well thought-out. But that's what makes The Night Circus so different from other books. People like a cinematic, action-packed, high-paced stories that tackles you. But The Night Circus creeps up on you, it's a story that is expansive and spans through many lives and many years that it cannot be told in a matter of days, and the sense of mystery and surprising revelations add to the tale's depth.

Some people have also been disappointed or felt misled at the term 'duel'. They thought of Harry-Potter-likes duels where spells fly and things erupt into chaos. What they got though, was more of an duel of the mind. They're creativity and innovation skills are being tested not their strength. The rules of the duel are arbitrary and has one twist -- it doesn't end until one of them dies.

Then here are sub-plots, which introduce characters as enchanting and wondrous as The Circus itself, gives them a decent story, a sense of involvement and influence in the main plot that no character Erin has created can really be called 'minor'. There's the creative director of the Circus' design, the fashionista that coordinates the acts costumes, a clockmaker who makes the centerpiece item and even a child that sneaks into the circus grounds. The magic of the Circus touches them, drives some insane. All these characters are affected by Celia's and Marco's actions and are simply a delight to read about.

I rate the book at 4.5/5 stars. There were some parts of the story that did seem tedious, but I was already caught in its spell to think much about it. In a nutshell, The Night Circus is a gem of a novel. It's style is descriptive and magical. It may be slow, but that doesn't mean its a bad book. If you have the patience to unravel the story and undergo the experience, reading The Night Circus will possibly be the best thing you've ever done.

Magic is something we can all relate to. It's something that we want to see in our lives, some even crave a semblance of its power. We may not have magic wands or spellbooks filled with curses to cast, but we each have a little bit of magic in us. We have the power to magically imagine, to create things with our minds.

So don't ever stop dreaming. As harsh as reality might seem, there are some dreams that really do come true.

And if reality does get a bit too hard to handle, know that the gates of Le Cirque de Revěs are always open for you to explore.

'Till the next post!

-- Karin Novelia, Restless Rěveur


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