Nine people attended the Book Club and reviews were very positive although the first reviewer did not enjoy the book describing it as very strange, difficult to understand and finish, and couldn't decide if she hated or loved it, or distinguish between what was fantasy or real! Although we did discuss that in Buddhism nothing is believed to be real and that the universe is a projection, therefore, an illusion meaning that all visions are like a dream and we create our own reality. We enjoyed reading a fantasy book, written as if magic is accepted as real because it is set in a familiar location. Some people found that it was so fantastical that it could be a bit difficult to read and understand in places. Although generally we agreed it was so intelligently written and convincing, it helped us to accept the nonsensical parts and therefore become lost in the world. The book was enjoyed because it was different, and the twist of the competition added to this. Feedback was that the descriptions were so amazing they stay with you and even though parts did get lost it remained an overall enjoyable read. Some members found it confusing at first but once the children grew up felt it was a pivotal point and became desperate to read on. The changing of years (chapters) presented everybody with some confusion making it difficult to keep on track in places but some ignored the time span as it seemed irrelevant! The visual style was a great success with the layered descriptions even becoming lost at times as so many fantastical events were described. One member described this as like too much richness in a layered cake where you end up not being able to taste all the amazing flavours! We agreed we wanted to be transported to the circus world the author created. It reminded one of us of the lands Enid Blyton's characters used to find themselves in and took us back to the same imaginative worlds of childhood.
In terms of the plot we discussed its intricacy and decided it didn't matter if we could consistently follow it as such because the many characters kept the story threaded together. The turning point for some was Isabelle unbinding the Tarot Cards that had protected the circus especially as most of us had not realised how significant her role had been in holding the circus together. Towards the end, as the circus was unravelling, the book seemed to be reflecting this with lives spiralling out of control. The cynics amongst us were not as positive about the fact that Celia and Marco were trapped but that everything was OK because they were with the right person! We discussed that the timing of characters coming in and out suited the personality and role of each character, e.g. the elusive grey suited man, the contortionist. Everyone agreed that the children being forced into the competition was cruel and was hard to accept at first, e.g. burning rings, cutting fingers. The plot succeeded in making the majority of us believe in magic as normal as it was well introduced and became matter of fact, e.g. no details were really elaborated upon but just mentioned as illustrations. This generally did not make us feel that there was missing information or that everything had to be understood it was simply an exceptionally clever way of creating the illusions.
In terms of the characters it was discussed that the character of the circus was more important and the way the characters were tied into it. Some members wanted the circus to survive more than the characters! Most of us liked the lovers but felt the dialogue was a bit obvious and unbelievable because they were too well rounded and level considering they were abused as children. There was no reflection of the impact of that abuse, some expected this would lead to a twist. We felt sorry for Isabel until we realised how much power she had when we learnt how she kept the circus together, as seen through the tarot cards. We discussed the strength of the Contortionist who some felt was a negative character until they realised she wanted the circus to survive just as everyone else did. Some members particularly liked the way symbols played out on her tattoos. Most agreed that out of all the characters Hector was not believable as he was TOO evil! He didn't save his daughter or care about her right from the start when she'd lost her mother. She was an object of use and he was not just mean but also overconfident she couldn't lose the competition. We felt the characters were positive, genuine characters which made us care about their stories. We could not agree on the argument observed by Tara Burgess which led to her death and discussed if it was a real argument or an illusion to cause her to fall to her death?? Fredrick Thiessen died which we linked to him as a clockmaker representing time in the story as that was when the circus started to unravel, he was the catalyst in so many ways, e.g. the design of the clock was the first part of the circus, he inspired the reveurs who were involved but not magical, therefore, almost representing the reader and he was very appreciative without being too involved or questioning too much. We enjoyed the 'groupies' linked to their dedication of following a circus that just appears and felt they drew us in because they were ‘us’. Bailey was a popular character being normal and endearing as he reflects the readers’ sense of wonder but from the outside perspective and we were pleased he stayed grounded and didn't become magical. Some of us enjoyed the twins Widget and Poppet and their kittens, thinking them adorable especially as their births before and after midnight represented the start of the circus and one can see forward and one back and they were significant in saving the circus in the end. Some of us felt there was a strong theme of female empowerment due to the development of the characters.
A particular favourite part of the book was the detail of the party where Celia and Marco kiss, we loved the dress changing colours according to who was near and the intricate details created a lush image. Another favourite was the first midnight dinner to plan the circus, and then later visualising the new tents as they appeared. Two tents we discussed were - the tent with jars that brought different sensory experiences when opened and then climbing up the cloud tent but it still made us try to think what it was made of! The clock was a particular favourite description as some felt they could actually see it and for that reason that it was an amazing and impressive image. As Bailey was a popular character some of us liked it when the children dared Bailey to go into the circus and he was given the glove by Poppet (who knew his name) which he kept as you knew he was going to become more significant.
Ironically we were so excited by the book that we felt the ending could never live up to our expectations! The parallel universe of Celia suspended was weird as well as the predictable happy ending because Celia and Marco were together at last. Again the cynics amongst us didn't like how it was written as a very sentimental act of them hugging and preferred the meeting rounding off the circus as an ending. Them floating about was not necessary!! Of course we discussed that it could have had a tragic ending with one of them dying but even the cynics were glad it didn't! Some members were distraught when Bailey got to the field and the circus was gone but were happy that Bailey took over the ‘control’ although still couldn't expect it to be as spectacular an event as the rest of the book. Chandresh being reintroduced at the end to create something new although he was losing it was a clever touch as he had been part of the creation. It was agreed the ending was an anti-climax but for example we did agree a battle to end the competition would have been silly! The end was more like moving pieces of a chess game and intriguing rather than a direct fight! But ultimately we agreed Marco and Celia had not been aggressive characters throughout the story and hadn't kicked up a fuss about the challenge or questioned what was ultimately going to happen to them despite being strong characters so this was consistent to the end. They had never tried to outdo each other or be competitive or sabotage, they were 'too nice' even though they were being used, yet we agreed most relationships have an element of competition even if the person is not particularly competitive! All but one of us could reread the book to get more from and felt the more we discussed it the more we appreciated how incredibly intelligent the writing was AND didn't even want it to end – the email address made us want to look for it now! Generally the book was so enjoyable we loved the journey but not getting to the end…
As a first book for the author we thought it was confidently written and hugely successful especially because of the willing suspension of disbelief. It was felt the style of writing was very gentle and not hard work to read and that the way it stimulated the senses was amazing. Erin Morgenstern must have had remarkable vision to plot everything with so much information and tiny details to fit together making the visions incredible and beautiful. We marvelled at what sort of intricate imagination she must have?! And at her fantastical process of drawing up the elements if the images. Comparing it to past reads we felt the period it was set in was irrelevant, we had been worried it was another circus book and another Victorian book to read BUT it made us want to be part of something especially if it resonated with our own lives and not feeling part of something. Some of us especially linked this to being more spiritual. The characters were all in it together and possessed a shared belief which we felt they were lucky to be part of it. It was far from being about a circus or even really being a circus!!
Nine members gave the book an average score of 7.8 out of 10, the lowest score 4 and many 8-9’s!
Buy on Amazon