The Night Circus, came well recommended by Catherine at A Spirited Mind and Sheila at The Deliberate Reader. It looked like their book club had a magnificent spread the evening they discussed this book. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall.
I will say that I probably enjoyed this novel more than usual because I listened to it in audio form. It was narrated by Jim Dale (winner of ten Audie Awards, two Grammy Awards, and seven Grammy nominations as a narrator). He did a magnificent job of sweeping the listener into the story and presenting each character with separate flair. I thoroughly enjoyed this book for its classic Victorian setting, its richly articulated characters, and its hauntingly magical air.
The reader is introduced to Le Cirque des Reves, a travelling night circus only open from dusk to dawn. Inside the circus there are many characters who play parts, but two individuals hold special roles as they compete against one another in a competition of sorts. Neither one volunteered to be sucked into the competition and neither one has a full understanding of the terms and goal of the game. The story of this competition is teased out over another story of a young boy's fascination with the circus. I enjoyed both aspects of the tale (both the bits about Celia and Marco in the competition and the bits about Bailey and his friends within the circus, Poppet and Widget). I think Poppet and Widget were perhaps my favorite characters of all, but I did enjoy watching romance bloom between Celia and Marco. How can two opponents continue to compete when they have fallen head over heels in love with each other?
Toward the end of the book, after the life of the circus is threatened, Widget visits one of the men who set the competition in motion. The man in the grey suit asks Widget what he does with his talent and what purpose it serves. Then came this passage I couldn't help but stop to write down (even though it was tedious going, writing it down from the audio playback) because it captures the importance of authors and their words:
"I tell stories," he says. It is the most truthful answer he has.
"You tell stories?" the man asks, the peaking of his interest almost palpable.
"Stories, tales, bardic chronicles," Widget says. "Whatever you care to call them. The things we were discussing earlier that were more complicated than they used to be. I take pieces of the past that I see and I combine them into narratives. It's not that important, and this isn't why I'm here."
"It is important," the man in the grey suit interrupts. "Someone needs to tell those tales. 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, from the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that."
Powerful words! Words I want to remind myself of often! For those words alone, this book was well worth the listen. It affected me in ways I could never have predicted.