The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern - Vintage, 2012
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I have always had a soft spot for stories of travelling entertainers. The irruption of the marvellous into the workaday world, which they represent, is a very powerful idea, because it is something we all want (the trope of the romantic meet-cute - the handsome prince who sweeps you off your feet, the princess so beautiful that when she looks at you, the entire world stops - is another very common manifestation of the same thing). As a child, the appearance of the leaflets advertising the arrival of the annual funfair was a source of great excitement. The reality, of course, was rather different. Fairs and circuses are intensely physical places, grimy, noisy and smelly, and I wandered round them in a permanent state of mild disappointment that they were not as extraordinary as I had imagined.
Writers who set their stories in such an environment have a challenge to avoid engendering a similar feeling in the reader. How to keep the location sufficiently real that it doesn't feel twee or whimsical, while still retaining a sense of wonder and possibility? It's a difficult balance to pull off, and few writers have achieved it. One such is Ray Bradbury's fabulous Something Wicked This Way Comes, which uses the darkness and wildness of autumn and hallowe'en to give his carnival a fantastical edge. The Night Circus is more derivative, but that is about the only thing I can say against it.
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