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Mmm books - they taste good in my brain. So I decided to work in publishing and feed my habit. So now for a living I read wonderful children's books and tell everyone how great they are. It's called publicity! Many thanks to Oliver Jeffers for the name inspiration and header image.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

You probably won't find me giving too many in depth reviews here, because I suppose as a book publicist I generally have ulterior motives for recommending books! I know I won't be able to help myself sometimes, but in this instance as it's a book for grown ups and published by Vintage, I figured I could get away with it!

I received a proof of this book when I was still working at RHCB - it arrived in the internal post wrapped in black paper and shiny white ribbon, which prompted much excitement! Tucked into the book was a small business card, printed with the following:

"The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it.
It is simply there,
when yesterday it was not."

Vintage do an absolutely beautiful job of everything they do - their books are beautifully published, so I was already very aware of the hype and creative marketing that was going into promoting this book. This particular proof was offered to encourage in house staff to photograph themselves with the book, wearing something red, to be posted on the intranet homepage - sadly I never got the chance to do this before I left!

The book tells the story of a mysterious travelling circus that appears from nowhere and opens only at night. Its illusions and entertainments are so enchanting that people lose themselves in amongst the black and white striped tents until dawn. But behind the glittering fairy lights and spinning acrobats, there is something keeping the circus together beyond any of its patron's imaginations. Two figures are locked in a dangerous wager, keeping the circus balanced as they discover the rules of their game.

I found this book impossible to walk away from. The descriptions were so sumptuous and detailed that I found myself desperate to visit the circus for myself. Every time I closed the book and stepped back into my carriage on the tube everything looked far too dull and muted compared to the dazzling world of the story. The plot itself weaves through time, cleverly moving back and forth to reveal the fates of the characters piece by piece. I was a little disappointed by the ending as I was anticipating something  little more dramatic. I also think it was probably too long - however if I had been editing this book I would have been loath to remove any one of the tempting scenes of caramel apples by the bonfire or glittering snow gardens, permanently frozen.

There is so much beauty in this book that perhaps it would be easy to overlook issues with the plot, or excuse them. Morgenstern is clearly a hugely talented writer and has plenty of respect for the real magic of storytelling. However, I think that someone even a smidgen less whimsical than I may have found the fantasy of the circus too insubstantial to cover the slow pace of the plot. There weren't many surprises in the direction of the story, as the reader seems to be aware of things that seem blindingly obvious but only become apparent to the characters some time later. In fact, the characters are generally rather thinly described compared to the lushness of their world. I think this is where the book really falls down unfortunately.

However - I am a girl on the high end of the whimsical scale. I do believe that within books, films, music and art we can really lose ourselves and it is a kind of magic. I think this is why I'm so drawn to children's books, because all those possibilities of fantastical worlds and events are still present. I am clearly the sort of person this book is therefore aimed straight for! I found reading The Night Circus immensely enjoyable. It is truly beguiling and sensory, drawing you into a world that would be so incredible to witness. For that reason I would still strongly recommend it to read - curl up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate as the cold winter nights draw in and read it for the joy of it. In the meantime I will be looking forward to the arrival of Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland in the hope it will at least half way satisfy my craving for a magical circus!

The Night Circus is out now, published by Harvill Secker.


  1. This books sounds really intriguing - like the sound of the caramel apples by the bonfire for this time of year. Will be looking out for new posts by you.

  2. I can't wait to read this book! I didn't realise you had a blog! Well done you. It is nice to see the publishers letting us know what they like too.

  3. I really, really want to read this one! I've heard nothing but wonderful things. And it just looks like a pretty book. I love that you have a blog, keep it up :)