Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Night Circus

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 There has been much talk around my office on the proper way to describe Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus.Morgenstern herself has commented on her blog about the misrepresentations regarding her novel (someone, please tell the WSJ that it’s NOT Harry Potter). With reviewers glomming onto this stellar debut like booksellers to free books, I questioned my own attempts to discuss it in writing. Yet, despite the fact that I know I just cannot do it justice, I have found that I must make some effort to mention this novel, if only to get its title into the minds of my readers, so that they too can be transported by this magical tale.

I use the word magical, not because, as was mentioned previously, this novel is full of people performing magical tasks, although manipulation and illusion are a basis to the plot, but because the storytelling itself is magical in that it utterly bewitches the reader. It is easy to become enchanted by the characters and their stories, but easier so, to become enchanted by the writing itself. It’s quite simply compelling. Unfurling itself layer by layer, a labyrinth of a tale that one must wander through, much like the characters must wander through the circus discovering new tents and delights with every turn—never fully capable of exploring every crook and cranny no matter how many times they visit.

I hesitate to describe the plot, I can’t do it justice, I can only say that at this base of this novel are a man and women, bound together in a competition. The circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, is the venue. The rules are unclear, the outcome unknown, but their actions will set the course for the impossible to happen. The circus is not just a location or thing; it is a full-blown character, wholly fleshed, a living breathing intricate part of this novel. All things are possible in the world of Le Cirque des Rêves and thus, for the reader of the The Night Circus, the possibilities of this novel and the places it can transport are limitless. The human characters are just as gripping, their stories intricately entwined with the circus and the battle in which they have been caught. These people live and breath for the reader, their actions mysterious, yet oddly familiar by the novel’s close. Morgenstern creates them so that in the end the possibilities for their futures are infinite.

I can say no more, I don’t have the skill, not for such a complex, yet dream-like feat of imagination. I can only praise an author who has made me want to revel in the depths of her pages, visiting them again and again, never tiring of the familiar or ceasing to be amazed by newly revealed treasures. This is a novel whose secrets and hidden depths will never run out. I leave readers then with this quote from the novel; it far better explains the spellbinding qualities and enormity of The Night Circus, as Friedrick Thiessen, describes the captivating allure of Le Cirque des Rêves.

“I find I think of myself not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to reach the circus. To visit the circus again, if only in their minds, when they are unable to attend it physically. I relay it through printed words on crumpled newsprint, words that they can read again and again, returning to the circus whenever they wish, regardless if time of day or physical location. Transporting them at will. 
“When put that way, it sounds rather like magic, doesn’t it?”
            (The Night Circus, Part V, Divination)

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Get Ready for "Ready Player One"

Hold on to your seats cyber geeks and eighties freaks this is your book! Set in the year 2044, in a world where people are literally plugged into a virtual reality world, called OASIS, and rarely physically leave their homes, Ready Player One is a fascinating mesh of cyberpunk, adventure, and pop-culture. Think Surrogates, meets The Matrix, meets Willy Wonka, meets the works of Neil Stephenson, meets every geeky 80’s movie ever made, and you might just come close to the brilliance of Ernest Cline’s debut novel.

 Like the characters, readers quickly become enmeshed in the inner-workings of OASIS, a VR world that allows you to shrug away physical human contact in favor of virtual meetings, chat rooms, and ceaseless adventure gamer-style. At times it even becomes difficult for the readers to remember that these characters are not physically present in their OASIS lives, so clearly are their personalities placed into their Avatars. In fact, when we do have glimpses of the real world, they are so jarring, so bleak and empty, that it is easy to see why the world has opted for the ultimate escape. We cheer for underdog hero Wade Watts, whose cyber know-how and ridiculous knowledge of pop-culture helps to transform him into a figure of mythic proportions. Yet, we also recognize (as does Wade, eventually) that in the end, people are more than their virtual avatars, and life must also be lived, in the real world, in order for us to emotionally survive.

This is a fantastic read for science fiction and cyberpunk fans yearning for a novel to take them places they’ve never gone before (or if you’re a product of the eighties, places you haven’t been in quite a long time). Read it, live it, love it…and hope that we never have our own OASIS, trust me, no one wants to be that plugged-in to anything.

ps: The ARC cover was so much better than the final!

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