The Night Circus - a black-and-white, Cirque du Soleil-like circus that materializes overnight and is filled with tents both awe-inspiring and whimsical. Traditional acts - trapeze artists, contortionists, big cats - are interspersed with a tent of strange bottles, a memorial tree filled with candles, and a forest made of ice and snow.
At the heart of this circus is a contest of magical education - Celia and Markus are pitted against one another in a mysterious, ill-defined age-old contest of magical illusion.
The narrative thread in The Night Circus is broken into three parts: a "real-time" narrative that follows Celia and Markus and the development of the circus, a "later" narrative that follows a Massachusetts farm boy, Bailey, who becomes obsessed with Le Cirque de Reves whose story to whose story the "real-time" narrative gradually catches up to, and a "free-floating" narrative that drops chapters describing the various tents intbetween the other narratives (this is a more "modern" line and it is narrated in the 2nd person - "you" - as if the book is narrating the reader's movement through the circus).
This is a very atmospheric book. Morgenstern sets a scene so well, with very visual, auditory, and olfactory (could do without so many caramel-apple smells, though) description. There is an exquisite scene between Celia and Markus where they create visions for one another - including a forest of paper trees with love scenes from books written on the trunks. The writing is just that evocative (Morgenstern is a visual artist as well and it shows in her world building).
I enjoyed this book - the concepts, the evocations in individual chapters - but the book didn't blow my mind, much as I wanted it to. I lost the thread of the plot several times and, had I not been listening 10 minutes at a time in the car on audiobook, I might have set it aside to read later. Without spoiling specifics, I was a little disappointed in the denouement - some of the plot was clever and some failed to explain anything. I kept wishing all the magical tents were real and that I knew more than I did about the different cards of the tarot (points to Morgenstern for not over-explaining things like that).
Audiobook specific observation: Jim Dale (the narrator) says "thank you" weird, like he bites off the "you" and gives it a bit an "r" on the end...and it cuts across all of his accents. This is an annoyance I heard on the Harry Potter audio, too. Also, there are American characters who should have New England/Boston accents yet he chose to give them English-ish accents. Sorta odd (although not as odd as the rather nasal Gaelic accents of Poppet and Widget...annoying).