Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Night Circus: A Q&A Session with Aarti

While I was reading The Night Circus a few weeks ago, I discovered that my great reading buddy Aarti was in the midst of perusing the book as well. I, of course, sent off an email asking her opinion on the book, and that began an impassioned series of emails, all discussing the various elements of this intriguing and unique book. For the first time, Aarti and I were having a very different opinion on a book we had chosen to read together, and our conversations about it were both interesting and very contrasting. Each time I read with her, I discover things I may have overlooked and find myself considering points that I may or may not have thought about before. Though we disagreed somewhat in our perceptions of this book, hearing her thoughts was invaluable to me. In Aarti’s dissenting opinion I found that I could see that some of the points she made were valid, and also that she’s a deft and decisive reader who sought to reconcile each bit of the story she was invested in reading. So, today Aarti and I have decided to post a bit of a question and answer session that revolves around The Night Circus. Our post has been divided, and you will find the second half over on Aarti’s site.

The summary: In this enchanting novel of surreal imaginings and epic proportions, a battle unlike any you have ever encountered is enacted in a venue of dreamlike splendor. When two very powerful magicians decide to play a game that pits two of their students against each other magically, the consequences are far reaching and unexpected. For Celia, the daughter of the world famous Prospero the Enchanter, the competition that she will one day be engaged in means nothing to her other then ceaseless practice and mystery. To Marco, a boy who is being trained by the mysterious man known only as Alexander, the realities of the completion mean one day testing his skill against one whose abilities could possibly surpass his own. When the two elder magicians decide to create a magical circus as a venue to house this strange and volatile competition, the circus develops a life of its own. And the life of this particular circus is one of strange magical wonder and enchantments so unusual that it defies the understanding of even those who are charged to keep its secrets. As Celia and Marco use their venue for more and more abstract displays of their magic, a life and society begins to bubble up. The circus has a way of enchanting and ensnaring even the most casual observers, pushing the limits of comprehension and belief into the realm of imagination and dream. But when unexpected events threaten to not only end the competition but tear the beloved circus apart, Celia and Marco must take drastic steps to protect what they’ve built, and strangely enough, to protect each other, though the rules of the competition forbid this. With utter beauty and dreamlike interpretation, Erin Morgenstern gives us the brilliance and beauty of The Night Circus, and shares a space where imagination and power flow freely into the darkness, creating a brilliant and beautiful light.

1) This book had several different elements, from the artistic and surreal, to a set of very intertwined characters to a very complex and thought provoking plot. Which of these elements was the strongest for you, and which was weakest?

Aarti: I think that the author’s sense of place and ability to completely visualize her setting were the strongest points in this book. The whole idea of the night circus is described in such vivid and exquisite detail, down to the clock, the concessions and the tents. I feel like Morgenstern has a tiny circus replica in her house somewhere that she just keeps adding to as she thinks of new magical ideas. The setting was very vivid, and I loved it.

I think the weakest part of this story was the characters, which is unfortunate for me because I really enjoy character-driven novels. But the two main characters were vaguely-written, in my opinion; we knew more about their magic tricks than about their personality. And I never understood how they were tied to the circus and why it was such a big deal to try and “escape” the circus for them, so I suppose in that way, I think the plot was not that strong, either. I am much more willing to forgive a weak plot if I love the characters, but I don’t generally like stories in which I feel the characters are flat. I never understood how Celia and Marco evolved from lonely and shy children into fairly manipulative and confident adults, and I really didn’t buy their love story at all.

Heather: The strongest elements for me had to be the artistic vision that rendered itself so fully in the story, and the wholly unique and magical plot creation that Morgenstern imbued the book with. When we were discussing the book, I used the adjective “intoxicating,” and weeks later, I still feel like that applies. It was mystical and magical and had its own life about it. It was a book that took me to a place I hadn’t been before, and I agree that the detail with which she created the circus was deft and amazing. There were so many instances when I just marveled at the imagination of it all, and there was a feeling of unpredictability in the eclectic touches that really elevated the book into what I felt was a seething mass of magic and darkness.

It wasn’t until we started discussing your reactions to the characters that I started to realize that I was in agreement with you about them. I did feel like they were perhaps the weakest element, because they almost seemed to be showpieces that weren’t fully developed at times. I speculated a great deal about them because there was a lack of dimension about them. But I liked that they were blank slates that I could write my own feelings upon. I spent a lot of time in my mind when reading this book, creating feelings that may or may not have been intended in the narrative, which was different for me. I didn’t feel like this ruined the book for me though, because I tended to overlook their development a bit. I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them in that way until we really started delving deeper into our discussion. I also didn’t question their attachment to each other like you did, and instead just sort of accepted it without question, mostly because I felt they had been fated to end up with each other, and like they were somehow fulfilling a destiny that the entire circus hinged upon. I was caught up in the imagination of it all when I was reading, and only later was I really able to pick each layer apart and analyze them separately.

2) Which character did you relate to best in the story? Perhaps not the character that you liked the most, but the one that resonated with you the most fully?

Aarti: I think the character that I felt the most empathy for was Chandresh. He came up with the whole idea of the Night Circus, brought together all the brilliant minds to make it happen, and then was completely left out in the cold.He also was in love with Marco, but never had that love returned. I just felt so much for him, this brilliant mind, outgoing personality and great friend to all who then lost his way because of the Circus, through no real fault of his own. It was taken out of his control and he was made to suffer for it, and really, it’s because of Chandresh that I could never warm to Marco at all- he just seemed like such a sinister character to me after seeing the way he treated Chandresh. It was just so sad, and I felt so horrible for what the man was made to go through.

Heather: I really liked the twins the best. I know that’s cheating, because that’s two characters, but I felt they really embodied a lot of the innocence of the circus, and their ability to befriend and learn from everyone they came into contact with felt very genuine and altruistic. I also liked that they had such a special relationship with each other. There was something about the way they cared for each other and nurtured each other that really made me look forward to seeing them on the page. There was a lot of darkness in this story, and though some of it was peripheral darkness, the twins brought light, and that made them the two characters that I felt the closest to.


As you can see, there was a little dissension when it came to how we felt about certain elements of the plot, but in some things we agreed. To check out more of our conversation, hop in over to Aarti’s blog and check it out!

19 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love your joint review on this! I totally relate to what you're saying about finding out different perspectives from someone else who reads the book. I love to exchange emails with a co-reader, and should really do it in a public format next time because it is so revelatory!

Harvee said...

A fascinating plot and your points of view help us get a good idea about the book. It's on my wish list!

Suko said...

Great discussion! Heather, it's fine to choose the twins--they are a pair. This book is on my wishlist, even if the characters are not as strong as the magic (which may be a character, too).

Literary Feline said...

This was a great idea, Aarti and Heather. Especially as someone who is on the fence about this book.

nomadreader said...

Great discussion! I finished this one last night and am in more agreement with Aarti, but it's so nice to see a discussion between two readers with different opinions. The dialogue certainly opened my eyes to a few things.

Anna said...

"Intoxicating" is the perfect word for this book!

softdrink said...

Great discussion! I'm with you in that I didn't notice about the characters so much...I was just so entranced by the setting! I did love the twins, and would've liked more of Widget.

Beth F said...

I have this on my list -- next up in audio. I'll let you know what I think and be back to read this discussion.

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

A great conversation. I think this may be my reading for the night.

Marie said...

what a great conversation. i'm glad you enjoyed this so much! i'll get around to it sooner or later.

Trisha said...

I love this! A convo between two super smart, bookish ladies. :)

Aths said...

Fabulous discussion! Loved reading both yours and Aarti's viewpoints! I can see something I'll love about the book in both perspectives, so I'm really excited to finally read it sometime this month! Off to check Aarti's post.

TheBookGirl said...

I just finished the book this morning. For me, the circus itself was the character that most resonated...the people in the book were, for me, secondary. The contortionist was the one that most unsettled me...
For someone who almost never reads fantasy, this book was a revelation. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though it did lose a bit of juice at the end for me.

TheBookGirl said...

yikes...I just re-read my comment...too many "for me"s, sorry, lol.

Darlene said...

This book is next on my list to read. So many have loved it and it was reviewed on our morning news today making me want to read it even more.

Stacy at A Novel Source said...

I love the discussion!!! I am in complete agreement with Aarti about the lack of development of the characters but also in agreement with you about the twins. They were definitely the bright spot to the story!

Vasilly said...

I love this joint review! I just finished reading this and now I'm so eager to write my own review! You guys did a great job talking about what you love and didn't about this book.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Yes, I love the joint review format! And, this happens so often in our neighborhood book discussions - we see/acknowledge points that others raise.

Speaking of which - Suko did just that with her comment that the magic itself could be a character.

I absolutely fell into the atmosphere of THE NIGHT CIRCUS - I grew impatient when I was in the 'real world' in my reading, and wanted to get back to enter a new tent, etc.

Brilliant job, Heather and Aarti!

Lisa said...

What a fun idea! The Q&A joint review process can often bring out so much more of the reader's impressions (as it seems to have here). Really enjoyed seeing your different perspectives!

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