As a fellow participant of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I heard Erin Morgenstern’s name before she was actually published. Her debut book, The Night Circus, created a metric ton of ballyhoo prior to publication. She was touted as the next Harry Potter, even snagging the phenomenal Jim Dale to narrate the audio version of her magical book.
And like other NaNoWriMo success stories, the overnight success was preluded by years of hard work. “A very sprawling, very rough draft of The Night Circus was first written in a few different Novembers of NaNoWriMo. Almost the entire book was rewritten and revised before it got from there to the finished version. To give you an idea of how much: Celia isn’t in that first sprawling draft. It is a lot of stuff about the circus but not a lot of plot, but it gave me something to work from,” Erin has written on her blog.
But the professional polish and imaginative story stands alone, creating a wondrous world which will lasts long past the last page.
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
From Random House
Erin Morgenstern’s publisher, Random House, has a wonderful selection of book club discussion questions here. But as always, here at the Reader’s Feast, we have a few more questions to round out your discussion.
- The circus vignettes are disconnected from the narrative and written in second person, making them intimate, vivid, and memorable. Readers seldom encounter second person point of view. (Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney is one of the few notable novels written in second person.) Was it jarring to you or did it draw you in? Could you imagine yourself at the circus?
- What tent or exhibition would you most want to visit? What foods would you want to taste? What feature would you avoid?
- Like magic, the story is revealed through sleights of hand—juggling the past with the present, hiding pertinent information until the last moment, and providing misdirection. How was the story enhanced (or lessened) by the tricks?
- Was it fair for the circus members to be pulled into a contract without their approval? Were the benefits (agelessness, travel, etc.) enough to outweigh the risks?
- Prospero has a mental and magical hold on Celia, including after his “death.” How can a ghost of a person be stronger than a real person?
- Marco and Celia struggle with balancing the ever-expanding circus. How is this a reflection of how we overextend ourselves?
- There are several pairings in The Night Circus. Marco and Celia, Poppet and Widget, Celia and Herr Thiessen, Marco and Isobel, and Tara and Lanie Burgess. Bailey is one of the few unpaired individuals. How does this make him different? Would he make a different decision about joining the circus if he was paired? Is Poppet enough for him or is she too closely paired to Widget to fully give herself to Bailey?
- Have you ever been behind the scenes of a circus, a play, a restaurant, a special production, etc? What was disconcerting about the behind the scene look? What took you by surprise?
- The reveurs were like followers of a cult. Today’s culture offers several cult options, such as certain events, movie franchises, some stories, etc. What elements are often found in a cult? (Some ideas: a universal truth, compelling characters, likeminded individuals, common ground, etc.)
- Who would you cast in the movie of The Night Circus, which is in the works?
- The circus would be nothing without its audience. Why do stories need to be told and heard to release their power?
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is as magical as its many, varied tents. It is a book that invites us to visit repeatedly—studying for the sleights of hand, reimagining the character’s motivations and desires, and relishing its promised delicacies.
On Wednesday, I will share the recipe for Black and White Red Velvet cookies, with a nod towards the reveurs of the Le Cirque des Rêves.