Ms. Morgenstern has created that sublimely rare gem of great narrative, compelling characters, and a superb setting using finely crafted writing; all of this accomplished in her debut novel.
As I have noted elsewhere, there are a number of successful authors who provide a good read and keep us connected to their novels that do one or two of these things well. They might provide good narrative and a compelling world such as Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. Her characters are fine but the writing is just adequate. She doesn’t carefully craft her sentences. Many people look down their nose at Ms. Meyers, but there are many, possibly most writers who are good at some of these aspects of storytelling that are still worthwhile to read. I’ve read the entire Twilight series as well as The Host. I’m glad I did. She is successful for a reason, but she doesn’t execute on every one of these elements of writing.
Morgenstern is one of those very rare authors who do it all. Each sentence, description and phrase is a marvel. She almost takes the care of a poet, but over many pages. We become fully immersed in her characters, her world and her story. We do so in the “air” of her exquisite writing. She is a delight to read. I will pre-order anything she cares to write. As she’s noted in her blog, she won’t be cranking out a book ever year; I’m absolutely good with that. Her writing is worth the wait (said now in the early cycle of waiting for her next piece).
The Night Circus contains a number of threaded stories that weave together into a beautiful, whole cloth. The book would have been great just getting to the circus or just with the character studies of the principles and the unfolding of their relationships. It would be a great novel simply living within the magical elements or immersed in the parties at la maison Lèfevre. Not only does it have all of these elements but weaves them together in a beautiful dance that provides a coherent overall show. Of course, don’t take my stilted words for it but let’s see a marvelous example:
“The Cloud Maze
An Excursion in Dimension
A Climb Though the Firmament
There Is No Beginning There Is No End
Enter Where You Please
Leave When You Wish
Have No Fear of Falling
Inside, the tent is dark-walled with an immense, iridescent white structure in the center. Bailey can think of nothing else to call it. It takes up the entirety of the tent save for a raised path along the perimeter, a winding loop that begins at the tent entrance and circles around. The floor beyond the path is covered with white spheres, thousands of them piled like soap bubbles. The tower itself is a series of platforms swooping in odd, diaphanous shapes, quite similar to clouds. They are layered, like a cake. From what Bailey can see, the space between layers varies from room enough to walk straight through to barely enough to crawl. Here and there parts of it almost float away from the central tower, drifting off into space.”[i]
I will not go into the storyline (see Amazon’s synopsis here) in fear of giving away the plot. I simply will conclude with unfettered praise for Ms. Morgenstern’s writing; she is absolutely fabulous.
A couple of side notes: I jumped between the Kindle and the Audible editions of the book (despite the fact that Whispersync for Voice isn’t enabled on the Windows Phone 8 app – I’m looking @ you Audible development team). Jim Dale (of Harry Potter fame) does a wonderful job reading The Night Circus. If you like listening to audio books, I highly recommend his work.
The second note I wanted to make is that reading this work gives me hope for a more civil, connected public discourse in an increasingly divisive America. I suspect that Ms. Morgenstern and I have starkly different views of social, political and theological issues. I don’t know this, but I suspect that a New Englander who graduated from Smith would not share the same worldview as a conservative Christian living in the South. Despite this, Ms. Morgenstern draws me completely into her world; I absolutely connect with her in that portion of her thought life she makes available in her work. This encourages me. If we can connect, surely we Americans can connect with one another better, have a more civil discourse in those areas where we diverge and listen to one another more often. I don’t anticipate that we would change each other’s views; I do believe we can respect each other without doing so. There seems to be this thought that tolerance for one another depends on either not believing there is objective truth (“what you believe is true for you but not me”) or we should not be strong in our convictions (if you are, you’re labeled a “fundamentalist”). I would rather have us acknowledge our stark differences and firmly, but humbly, hold our beliefs and yet be civil to one another. The connection engendered by Ms. Morgenstern and her work gives me hope that this is possible.
[i] The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern, Kindle Edition, Location 3151