This week, we’re thrilled to start our discussions of Erin Morgenstern’s magical and enthralling The Night Circus, which landed this debut author a seven-figure advance and hit the bestseller lists within mere weeks of release. For the event, Alex and I are joined by our newest Chatelaine book club member, assistant editor Lora Grady. This time out, we read pages 1 to 131 – and trust me, it was hard to limit our reading to that first part of the book and not devour the rest of it!
Laurie: Hello! So welcome to the enchanting, captivating, “unputdownable” world of The Night Circus!
Alex: Oh my God, so magical!
Lora: Enchanting, indeed. I love the idea of a circus that takes place at night.
Laurie: Glad you think so, Alex. I know this isn’t really your type of book.
Alex: I know! I was mesmerized. (I’m seriously into the magic theme, can you tell?!)
Laurie: Ha! Doesn’t it just suck you in?
Alex: The pacing and everything is just so well-crafted.
Laurie: I rarely come across a book I savour in the way I have been this one.
Alex: It did feel like magic, because the book evaporated. When I set out I thought, “How am I going to get through these 131 pages?,” and then they disappeared – just like the circus!
Laurie: So a real suspension of disbelief, you’d say?
Alex: Yes! The prose is amazing. Such rich imagery and sensory overload (in a good way). Everything just seemed so natural – or should I say supernatural?
Lora: I normally struggle with books like this, where everything is a big mystery, but all of my burning questions just keep me turning the pages.
Laurie: I kept visualizing everything – the lights, the magic, the beauty. Just the description of the circus sign lighting up alone was so stunning and wondrous.
Lora: I absolutely loved the intro to the book! It sets it up so well. And you can almost smell the caramel and the bonfire.
Alex: And it’s so fitting that that’s how Marco plays his first hand.
Laurie: That rainbow of fire! But there’s tension underlying the beauty, too.
Alex: Exactly. The fire — beautiful and dangerous.
Lora: So much tension. By the time we meet Celia, she’s already been through so much. And to have a father like Prospero!
Laurie: And that weird shaking sensation Celia feels at midnight – the feeling that something has been cast over the circus. Eerie.
Alex: That was so powerful. Her core was shaken. Like when her father appears as a ghost.
Laurie: Following her around like a creepy shadow. He’s not nice.
Alex: He seems a little self-serving, no?
Lora: From the moment he sees Celia, it’s pretty clear fatherhood isn’t on his list of life wishes.
Laurie: It’s like he’s “something wicked this way comes.…” Maybe? Who knows? And that’s what’s so exciting. The not knowing.
Alex: I was a little confused about Isobel at first, though.
Laurie: Me, too. I thought it was Celia.
Lora: So did I!
Alex: Me, too! Phew! Thought I was being super slow. Glad we all confessed at the same time. I feel lighter somehow.
Laurie: It’s an illusion! All of it!
Alex: And what about Bailey? I was confused about the woman he saw on the pedestal – the In Memoriam monument.
Laurie: And yes, who is that statue? The future? And it’s so interesting having a true outsider like Bailey in the mix.
Alex: Was she supposed to be the woman with the red hair? Or rather the girl who he finds as a child when he breaks in?
Lora: I think the woman with the red hair turns out to be Poppet.
Alex: So is time going backwards then in the circus? (Only in a book club like this can such a line be uttered without judgment!!)
Laurie: I have no idea what’s happening with time in the circus, but I don’t think we can take anything for granted!
Lora: Morgenstern shifts time periods with some chapters. It’s confusing but effective! The circus has had such an impact on Bailey’s life.
Laurie: Compared to plain apples and sheep, who wouldn’t be seduced by it?
Lora: Somehow I don’t think Harvard is in his future!
Laurie: It’s interesting to see the completed circus as they’re planning it, so to speak, with the Bailey segments.
Alex: Hold up! Are you saying Bailey’s story is in reverse, because when we met him, he was a child, no?
Lora: Yes. When we meet him again, he’s much older. But in between, we jump back in time to when they were planning the circus.
Alex: And then he met the redhead as a child.
Laurie: All the Bailey chapters are chronological, as are the circus planning ones, but Bailey is ahead of the circus planning. Make sense?
Lora: I’m so glad I’m not the only one confused by this! It took me awhile to figure it all out.
Laurie: Yeah, I had to keep flipping to the dates at the start of each chapter.
Alex: Ohhhhh. I get it.
Laurie: So the challenge…??? It’s hard to figure out the point.
Lora: I’m dying to know what Celia’s next move will be!
Alex: Me, too. I just adore her.
Lora: I can only assume the Winter Garden tent was Marco. Right?
Laurie: Yes. I loved Celia’s audition!!
Lora: She has some catching up to do. But I bet whatever she does will be spectacular.
Laurie: I think they both have their unique skills.
Alex: I cannot wait for them to meet visage à visage.
Laurie: One question. Why can’t Marco move with the circus? Did I miss something?
Lora: Hmmm…good question.
Alex: I thought he did.
Laurie: He says he has to stay in London. Why?
Alex: He’s the planner, isn’t he?
Laurie: Yes, but still. I don’t think it’s explained.
Lora: I wonder if it has anything to do with Alexander keeping an eye on him?
Laurie: Maybe we’re just supposed to go with it.
Lora: You know, I feel like “just going with it” is a big part of reading this book. There are so many unexplained events that if you tried to figure them all out, it would be frustrating.
Laurie: It’s all part of the suspense and drama.
Alex: I think so. That Alexander fella is particularly shady and controlling.
Laurie: Yes, but I like him better than finger-slicing, wrist-breaking Hector.
Lora: OMG! The part where Hector shatters Celia’s wrist was just awful! And how he told her not to cry! Poor thing!
Laurie: And she’s so lovely in spite of it all.
Alex: I know! Imagine what she could do with her teenage angst if she wanted to! I’m really loving this book.
Laurie: Morgenstern’s creation of this world is just so superb! And another amazing thing: the clock! Awesome!
Alex: That was the most amazing description ever! I was totally in a different universe – like a story within a story.
Lora: Yes. I’m so intrigued by the man who made it!
Laurie: I want to visit this world. Now! Talk about pure escapism – with yummy drinks and food to boot!
Lora: Of all the tents described so far, which one would you most want to visit?
Laurie: Hmm. If I had to pick a tent, I think Celia’s. But the dinner parties (and Tsukiko), so intriguing! Oh, the ice garden, too. And the wishing tree. I want all of them. Greedy, I know. Actually, I want to be Erin Morgenstern.
Alex: I will second you on all of that. And those midnight dinner parties – I want an invite to one of them. I can’t wait to polish off the next section.
Lora: I really hope Celia and Marco meet soon! I bet they’ll come face-to-face at her performance and something huge will happen. I mean, if his performance knocked her off her feet at a distance, what on earth will happen when they’re together in the same tent?!
Alex: The lovin’ better be epic.
Laurie: Okay, Alex. Enough with the sex! What about Poppet and Widget and what they said to Celia? And her thinking, “I need to keep an eye on these two?”
Lora: I love those two!
Alex: They are set to become pretty lead characters, aren’t they?
Lora: I hope so. But I love their innocence right now. I think Celia feels protective over them because she was so exploited by her own father for her abilities. I love how Morgenstern creates their characters: The one born before midnight sees the past; the one born just after midnight sees the future. So brilliant and, again, enchanting!
Laurie: It’s true. Absolutely apt!
Alex: She’s incredible!
Laurie: She is, isn’t she. She was inspired by immersive theatre, and she so successfully creates that immersive feeling in a book. It’s astonishing. I want to dive right into it. Submerse myself in it.
Lora: It is very theatrical. That influence makes so much sense.
Alex: It’s so apparent from the seamless creation of this universe. It’s so unreal that it feels real.
Laurie: Well, next week, we’ll find out if Marco and Celia meet (and survive the encounter, haha!). See you then!
Alex: I can’t bloody wait.
Laurie: Pace yourselves! And until then!