“When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.’ Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
I walked out of the library into the complete darkness, having no idea what type of weather to expect. Rubbing my eyes, my backpack heavy on my back, the cold was biting as I passed the threshold to the outdoors. 10 hours, I counted, since I had last walked outside. I forced a bare hand out of my warm pocket to place my headphones in, pressed play on Audible, and began my trek home.
Five minutes in, The Night Circus brought me into its world and out of my own. The cold felt less biting, the heaviness of my backpack and tired eyes was lifting. In the midst of midterm season, a dark and sobering time in college, The Night Circus, with its power to make me feel like a kid again, became a beacon of light.
I wasn’t even the biggest fan of the circus as a child. I’d been to the Big Apple Circus and remember enjoying it, but wouldn’t really think twice about it after a week or two had passed. The Night Circus, though, made me feel as if I had been obsessed as a child, and as if I was remembering that feeling for the first time in years.
The Night Circus is a Hunger Games-esque story. The premise: two children are placed in a challenge to fight to the death, they fall in love, and they do everything in their power to try to figure out how to beat the game. The circus itself is just the “venue.” But, in my experience as the reader/listener, the competition felt like the venue for describing the circus, and the description of the circus was what really made this book unique. The complicated storyline Morgenstern lines out was part of what kept me captivated while I listened. It’s truly impressive the number of characters she introduces – from a high school boy in Massachusetts confused about his future to an exotic contortionist with a secret to ghost-like old magician seemingly caught between two dimensions. What kept my attention more than all of this, though, was the sensory element of her storytelling. Morgenstern’s descriptions of the smells, the images, the experiences of the circus were so life-like, they truly had the ability to make me wonder whether every circus I had seen as a child was really magical – maybe I just hadn’t been looking hard enough, had been sheltered by what I thought I knew the boundaries between possible and impossible were.
Morgenstern talks a lot about the power of story-telling, explaining that the effect of a story is different on each “listener.” Listener is the word Morgenstern uses, and in the case of The Night Circus, I think, it’s important. Listening to this book as an audiobook rather than just reading it was a crucial part of my experience. There was something mesmerizing about hearing Jim Dale’s deep voice and British accent tell me this story as I went about my daily life, walking from the library in the dark, brushing my teeth in the morning, sitting in traffic. The story was truly told to me, rather than me just reading it in one stationary place. This was a huge part of the feeling of escape it was able to give me. Headphones in, reality out.
For me, the sensory descriptions of the circus affected me more than anything else in this novel. For you, it might be the story of the competition, the romance, the character development. Regardless, my recommendation would be to experience this book as an audiobook, and to think about the power of story-telling as you listen. If you follow that advice, I don’t think you can have a bad experience with The Night Circus, and I hope it’s able to do for you what it did for me – make you wonder, and possibly even believe in magic.
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