Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

I just finished The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  Let me tell you what led up to me reading it.  It's a fascinating story (not really).  About 6 weeks ago, I interviewed Meg Waite Clayton up in Palo Alto at the Town and Country Shopping Center.  She told me that the last Tuesday of every month, Books, Inc., located in the same center, has a book group.  Now, I've always avoided book groups.  I typically don't want to read a potentially bad book just because each book group member gets to pick when it's her turn (yes, I deliberately used the female gender - am I trying to be politically correct? - nope - it's just that when I went to my first Books, Inc. session, I was the only guy there).  So when Meg told me that one of the Books, Inc. head honchos, Margie Scott Tucker, moderates the sessions, and that they discuss the latest books, I thought I would give it a try.  On the last Tuesday of August, Joni and went up there for that month's get- together.  Only, I misunderstood what Meg said.  Margie picks a book each month, and everybody reads it.  I thought it was a more general confab about the latest books (whoops, my bad).  Since we were already there, Joni and I sat through the discussion about a book that we hadn't read.  It was still pretty interesting.  Margie will ask a question, then go on to the next question when she thinks it's time.  We don't get bogged down, and no one person gets to dominate the conversation/monologue.  It works.  Anybody is welcome, and people come one month and not the next.  I will post the book each month.  That way, you can either attend the group or at least have the option of reading something that an insider has selected.

Okay, so what is The Night Circus about?  As the 3rd nun said to Gabriel at the gates to heaven (I'll tell you the joke someday), "That's a hard one."  I can tell you the story starts out in 1873.  I can also tell you that The Night Circus is only open from sundown to dawn, and that it travels mysteriously around the world.  One minute there's an open field, and the next there is a whole circus full of tents of all sizes and shapes.  Excitement builds in each city during the day, and then the circus opens that night. It normally hangs around for a few nights.

What else can I tell you?  There is a ton of magic (actual magic, not the David Copperfield kind) in each tent.  They have contortionists, illusionists, and mediums, along with your basic acrobats, animal tamers, and fire-eaters.  Some tents have just magic and no performers.  Some tents change from one visit to the next.  Are there any relationships in the book?  The answer to that is yes.  Let me mention a few.

There are the 2 young magicians who, since they were children, have been pitted against each other by their mentors.  What they don't know is that the loser actually dies.  The competition manifests itself in the design of new tents/features for the circus.  There is Chandresh Christophe Levebre, who is the founder/funder of the circus.  Then there are 4 very unique people who help him get the circus up and running.  There is the German clockmaker, Friedrich Thiessen, who builds a unique clock that stands at the entrance to the circus.  And then there's my favorite, Bailey, who first visits the circus when he is 10 years old on a dare from his 13-year old sister.

I have to say that I didn't really get emotionally invested in the characters, with the exception of Bailey and the Murray twins, who are the same age as Bailey, and who were born on the first night of the circus, in 1887.  They are the equivalent of circus rug rats.  Having just told you that I didn't care about the characters in The Cutting Season, I find that I feel pretty much the same about these characters, with the 3 exceptions.  However, I liked the book.  I didn't love it, but I liked it.  I wasn't bored but was not sorry when it ended.  It reminds me of  several books that I have read that garnered great reviews and buzz, but that I thought were not as good as what I had heard about them.  Cutting for Stone (there's that word "Cutting" again) by Abraham Verghese, Life of Pi (the movie is coming out soon) by Yan Martel, and The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger, to name 3.  Then there are those that lived up to the hype:  11/22/63 by Steven King,  Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larssen.

If you like your books to be mainstream, then I'm going to recommend that you pass on The Night Circus.  If you're willing to read something that's a little bit (or a lot) different than Coben, Silva, Flynn, et al, then go ahead and give this a try.  I could see where there are people who would think this is a great book.  If you guess wrong, though, then you're in for some tough reading.

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