So it’s been a while since I asked who had been to The Night Circus and I’ve taken some time to think about it.
On the surface this book appears to be a fairly straightforward romance in a magical 19th century. But once you plunge into the circus, you find that you’ve inadvertently fallen in love with a piece of (and I whisper this) postmodernism. Very sneaky, Ms Morgenstern.
I bloody hate postmodernist fiction. Or at least I thought I did. All that wink and nod to the reader, the arched eyebrow of the author’s self-conscious highlighting of the fact that the reader is, in fact, reading. Woo-flipping-hoo. I won’t rant on about it, but it’s just never floated my achingly ironic (or should that be post-ironic?) boat.
But that tricksy Ms Morgenstern … her creation flew in right under my postmodernism radar. It charmed me with its premise (a mysterious circus, a magical battle and a dangerous love, all wrapped up in a delightful late Victorian setting) and it was only after I was already sucked in that I realised this novel wasn’t so much about entertaining me with a dramatic narrative and intricate characters … it was about drawing me into its world, making me feel that I was there, that I was reading true accounts of a circus full of beautifully impossible exhibits (such as bottled scents that tell stories).
The author uses present tense and, at times, the second person (and thus breaks all those rules about ‘how to get published’ that some espouse) to remind the reader that they are, in fact, reading a work of fiction … or truth … or does it even matter what is truth or what is a fiction, a dream? She invites us to consider the very nature of imagination.
So while some have criticised her novel for not providing enough narrative satisfaction, I would suggest that that isn’t the focus of this work. The writer’s interest lies in crafting exquisite tableaux that invigorate the reader’s senses and inviting that reader into her world … and even to expand it – the subject implicitly invites us to invent our own tents within the circus and the author explicitly invites us to play in her world (through a game and by emailing one of the characters).
And I, for one, am quite delighted by the invitation.