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Rejoice! February’s over

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2012 3:19 pm

"Life takes us to unexpected places sometimes"

—Erin Morgenstern

February's over and we can all rejoice! Birthdays of a few well-loved people in my life occur in this month, but other than that ... February can't be over soon enough. And in celebration of the early spring, I finally put down the Vampire books and picked up a delightful book about magic, illusion and fantasy.

"The finest pleasures are always the unexpected ones," to quote the author.

This particular unexpected pleasure is "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. It should be required reading for anyone who has lost the sense of magic and enchantment in their lives. I haven't read a more richly woven and delightful piece of literature in a long, long time. Many fairy tales of our childhood conjured up the imagery and mystery of magic, but this is a book for grown-ups and it doesn't disappoint.

The story revolves around two young illusionists who were chosen by their mentors who involve them in a lifelong contest that has vague guidelines and nonexistent rules. About illusion, we learn “People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see,” And much more.

Though our young players are aware of the game, they are not aware of how the game will be won until it has gone on for years. By the time they learn of the endgame strategy, they realize that it is not an option and they must alter the outcome — something they have been doing all their lives.

That is the basic plot. But the main character, in my opinion, is the circus itself — Le Cirque des Reves (The Circus of Dreams). We're involved in its creation by an eccentric magician; the gathering of the performers; and the ever-changing result which becomes a moving, breathing organism that changes with the whim of the players. “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

The performers are all richly carved characters with their own back stories and complexities. Morgenstern lets us in on some of their histories, but does not overshadow the story with too much information. I was impressed by the fact that though she uses beautiful and descriptive language, she also has a creative economy with words. She doesn't overemphasize any one subject for too long ... but just long enough. 'Circus' is also a quiet and gentle love story ... because it simply had to be. You can't have that much magic without conjuring up some love.

Some people will not be drawn to a book about fantasy and illusion. It took me some weeks to commit to reading this book. But the free-flowing prose and magical descriptions included in the narrative pulled me in and kept me turning pages until the last drop. It was a lovely escape from reality and one that I would take again if Ms. Morgenstern keeps the fantasies coming.

Sidebar: Some people may have been introduced to Morgenstern in the arena of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). This is a yearly challenge to write 50 thousand words in 30 days. Many people (including my brother, one of the well-loved February people) take part in this event and may eventually become successful authors. Morgenstern began 'Night Circus' while involved with the challenge and it grew from there. Something a budding novelist may want to investigate.

I'm not a writer of novels. But in this short review, I've used the word 'magic' many times. Sometimes that's the only word that works. And in this case, the book is truly magic.