Friday, April 20, 2012

Reflections: The Night Circus

The Night Circus is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. I was drawn to it because of the magical and mysterious synopsis. I was quite curious and excited to delve into some magic (or magical realism), but I am left confused (confusion being my predominant state of mind these days).

Prospero, the famous illusionist and a mysterious man in a grey suit arrange for a Game. A game of magical prowess and endurance. A game that has been played for centuries. A game wherein each of them pit their students against each other like pawns in a board game. But this time, Prospero selects his own daughter, Celia, as a contestant in the magical and grueling game. The bewitching and talented Celia has no idea what she (and her contestant) are in for. And then, as if the stars had always charted this out, the Night Circus comes into being. It’s the most enchanting Circus the world has ever seen. It opens at midnight and closes at dawn. It has limitless breadth and depth within its tents, making people wonder at the limits of possibility. While the audiences imagine the Circus to be brimming with unusually brilliant illusion and magic tricks, only those inside of it know how their lives have changed forever, suspended in a magical bubble that can burst at any time. They too, are now smaller pawns in the Game that unfolds itself inside the tents. What is this Game, what is to come of the Circus and its eclectic and mysterious stakeholders? Only time will tell. Time is the only thing that even Magic cannot truly escape? Isn’t it?

Have you made you a tad bit curious? No? Oh, well. Then this book is surely not for you! I want to keep most of the elements of the story under wraps as much as possible, for the mystery drives the first half of the book forward. I will just say that this book is not a magical replica of the Hunger Games! Yes, there is a similar game, but no, they are not alike in any other way.

The prose is gorgeous! Oh so luscious and enticing! It almost hypnotizes the reader with vivid imagery. That’s the best part of the book; the element which kept me hooked. The prose beautifully recreates every scene, every sensation, every visual perception in the mind’s eye. This is a delightful treat, especially to those who like fantasy and magic. Real magic! Managing this visual delight through words is a feat. Combined with this visual delight and the mysterious beginning, the book built up a grand expectation of what was to come. But, anti-climatically, the story itself fizzled out in about 2/3rds of the way. It was such a let down. Was there character development? Some yes, but not much.

The author tries to be very mysterious of everything, but in the end, you realize there wasn’t really much of a mystery. And those things that were really enigmatic (like the spells and charms) remain an enigma. There were no complex plots, nothing that intriguing or elaborate to warrant such a hefty premise. The ending seemed amateurish to me. It doesn’t befit the first half of the book. And truth be told, I don’t really understand the point of the story. Yes, not all stories on magic need to be allegorical and loaded with symbolism, but I felt the author was trying to put across a statement, but it never came through. It seemed like she was attempting to mix the metaphysical with the physical in some philosophical sense. Free-will in the context of controlling the elements and foreseeing the future? Was she trying to say that Magic is real and possible, but people just choose to ignore it and resist it because it requires self-awareness and uncomfortable control and confrontations within the mind? That Magic can be taught? Or that the boundary between reality and fantasy/magic is too thin and subject to perception and interpretation? Or that it’s not necessary for every story to have a meaning, a structure, a point to convey?

So, yes, the story itself fell flat for me. But, I loved the atmosphere that is created in the book. I soaked and savored the words as my mind’s eye feasted on the grandeur and deceptive simplicity of the beguiling Circus. And oh, there is also some fairy-tale romance that sparks up the atmosphere. And I’m a sucker for that  as well. But then again, can a book be truly enjoyed solely for such sensory/sensual experiences?

You see why I’m confused. I don’t know how to rate this book. So, I’m not going to. It is surely a very interesting and captivating book that your senses will revel in, but your intellect will scoff at. There is so much momentum in the first part of the book, but the story huffs and puffs and falls short in the end. Or, as is always the possibility, I just missed something! But I will surely remember this book for a long time! It has bewitched a portion of my brain. That's the spell this book casts, despite the lack of a strong story.

Someone compared this to Harry Potter apparently. Ha! No, this is nothing like Harry Potter. But, if Rowling and Erin Morgenstern were to team up, I’m confident that the result will be nothing short of magical!

If you’ve read this book, I would love to hear your thoughts!


Karthik said...

Sounds very interesting ! Seems to be quite different from most other books you've written about here .. :-)

Neeraja said...

Yeah for sure! :) It's a bizarre but entertaining book.