Some books are best read under specific conditions. Some must be read while you’re in a certain mindset or at a particular point in time. December might be the best example of the latter scenario, when many people have a book they read as a kind of year-end ritual or to get into the mood of the holidays.
I am one of those people, but my year-end reading ritual is slightly different. I received Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus for Christmas in 2011, the year it came out. It was probably the first book on my to-read list that I bought before first reading it elsewhere to decide whether I wanted to own a copy. It was a complete stab in the dark, and one that has since changed my reading and writing.
The book tells the story of two magicians who have been choosing students and pitting them against each other in a vaguely defined rivalry that has existed for decades, perhaps even centuries. Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair are initially meant to be no more than new contestants in this challenge to determine which of the two magicians has the most capable pupil, with Le Cirque des Rêves acting as the playing field. However, the magnetic attraction between Celia and Marco becomes an unexpected factor, their love unfolding in hesitant tremors, manifesting in the intricate and magical circus tents they create both as parts of their challenge and as physical love letters to each other. As always, an unforeseen romance can only stay alive with perseverance, magic, and perfect timing.
The Night Circus isn’t a traditional take on magic or the art of the circus world. Despite the monochromatic colour scheme of Le Cirque des Rêves and the book itself, their contents are anything but. This book is for a patient reader: one who doesn’t mind being slowly led through its pages by the glacial but tempting narrative that, like a quiet but insightful tour guide, never fails to point out all the right sights—from circus tents such as the Ice Garden and the Pool of Tears to features of characters themselves, like Tsukiko’s winding tattoos of mystical symbols.
It isn’t a book you can rush through, or rather it isn’t one you should approach in such a way. The magic of the circus needs time to unravel, to pull you under and silently inject its needle of magical realism into you.
Many a bibliophile dreads the question “What is your favourite novel?” Admittedly, at first I didn’t consider The Night Circus to be my favourite, contrary to my current assurance of its claim to that title. It took a couple of rereads for me to recognize the way my mind easily gets lost within the descriptions of luscious fabrics and caramelized apples. I joined the ranks of the rêveurs, headed by Friedrick Thiessen, the clockmaker responsible for the circus’ Wunschtraum clock. I also discovered that rereading it during the spring or summer didn’t feel right somehow, like the magic of the words wasn’t as potent. It is only during December that I can feel the full impact, particularly the impact of the story’s more deeply buried thoughts that are fully laid out only in the final chapters.
At the end of the year many people mentally summarize what they consider to be their successes and failures over the last twelve months. During this window of time it is easy to fantasize about possibilities that lie ahead. Although I cannot always withstand the temptation to take the book off its shelf and read it during a mild spring day or in the waning days of summer, The Night Circus has become part of my year-end reading ritual for five years and counting. Reading it reminds me of the magic of words and of the imagination, sometimes acting as a reassurance in times when I doubt the validity of my own writing.
At other times the book plays to my love for details and observation. The experience of reading it becomes more and more like watching a movie progress before my eyes with each following chapter. And above all, it caters to the child inside, the one I know never grew up but instead has simply become more adept at seeking ways to add a tiny bit of magic to what, at times, can be a mundane life.
–Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko