This book is like wine. It needs to be mulled over, savoured and waxed poetry about. It is exactly how it is described in its last few pages; bottled poetry. The protagonists go through tragedies, consequences of bad decisions, betrayal and treachery. But at the heart of it, the author is trying to open up a small window into your ability to see the magic in the world. Trying to give you a safe space to marvel at the wonder of this murky world.
The book starts with two magicians continuing their game of pitting their apprentices against each other. Mysterious characters are introduced and an unbreakable promise is made. In the beginning, you think that this is going to be almost like a war movie. There are two distinct sides and they will be facing each other at the opportune time. That there will be one encounter to determine a single winner. But that is not true. As the narrative progresses you as a reader are faced with the reality that war has no victor, only victims.
I was completely enthralled by the way the story was written because the same phenomenon occurs with La Cirque de Revès as with the story itself. The circus starts off as the stage for a competition but slowly becomes much bigger and much more important than anyone could have anticipated. In the words of Chandresh Lefevre, “I want the circus to work independently, without my intervention.” I can confidently say that Le Cirque De Rêves takes on a life of its own. I will go as far as to claim that the author herself was so invested in the idea of the circus, that the story of the two young apprentices seems like the supporting narrative! Like they are in service of the circus and not the other way around.
I have personally never been to a circus. But Erin Morgenstern casts a spell as magical as the circus that she describes with her words. One can almost taste and hear the smells and sounds of the circus. The story has three timelines running parallel to each other with, you guessed it, the circus as the one common thread. The three timelines are amazing in their own way because all of them are hurtling towards each other and the collision to become one is inevitable. You know it is not going to be pretty, and it is not but the way it develops is magnificent.
One storyline is of the apprentices. How they are competing, what the competition is and how it would end. The second storyline, which is my favourite and deserves to have a collection of short stories of its own is about how the circus was imagined, how the four core members of the planning team contributed and how the acts were hired. Then, the third storyline is about Bailey. A young man who is looking for a path in his life and is only sure about two things. He does not want to take over his father’s farm and that he is in love with Le Cirque des Rêves. As the story progresses all three stories start to grow into each other. You feel like you are solving three different puzzles only to discover that it is in fact one big one.
By the end of the novel, Erin Morgenstern succeeds in her to help us recognise our ability to go beyond the mundane and literally make our own reality. Each chapter feels like an independent short story. There are chapters dedicated to the description of some of the performances that take place at the circus. This book is like exquisite wine. You would want to savour every chapter, every sip, but will end up gulping it down!