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Michelle’s commentary on books, digital publishing and intersections between fiction & reality

Reading “The Night Circus” in Budapest coffee houses


The Book: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


4/5 stars

*No spoilers*

This book was recommended to me by a friend—we actually had seen the book during our trip to Slovakia in the front of a bookstore and she had many positive things to say about it.

I normally don’t read fantasy books—or romance books—so I wasn’t sure what to expect going in. But, I really enjoyed The Night Circus and it was a refreshing change of pace to my normal, preferred reads. I love Morgenstern’s writing style. She’s fantastic at imagery, which I suppose you have to be when you’re creating this magical circus that captivates everyone who steps foot inside.

As a reader, happily, you experience the same feeling. Apparently, the story was supposed to be made into a film, but a few years have passed and there haven’t been any meaningful updates. I would love to see Morgenstern’s circus and characters brought to life.

Interestingly enough, she didn’t intend to write this story.

Via an interview with Penguin Random House:

I created it by accident, really. I was working on a different story that wasn’t going anywhere and I was feeling frustrated and bored with it so out of desperation I sent my characters to a circus. The circus was immediately much more interesting. 

The book begins with a circus popping out of no where. It’s unlike any other circus you’ve seen or dreamt of. It’s filled with a never-ending line of tents that each contain something more fantastical than the last.

A “challenge” between two students is the plot paired with this magical setting. The students in question are Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair. They’ve been selected—against their will—by two individuals who have long been choosing candidates to participate in this challenge.

Magic is real in this book, as are spells and charms. Magicians—real magicians—mask their true abilities when performing and come off as ordinary illusionists.

Without going into the plot too much—because I’d definitely recommend reading this book yourself—the story moves along really well until the end. I found the conclusion to be pretty abrupt and confusing, which is what bumped my five star rating down to a four.

For the most part, the characters are likeable and their overall arc is interesting and satisfying. I did find Marco to be unlikeable at times given his handling of a certain relationship during the novel. The side plot was superb as well, and I often found myself more intrigued in that story more than the challenge itself.

Again, Morgenstern is great at details and scene-building. For that reason alone I’m glad I read this book, even if the ending was sub-par in my eyes.


Favorite Quotes

  • A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world. 
  • “People see what they wish to see. And in most cases, what they are told that they see.” 
  • “It is destroying me that I cannot ask you to dance,” Marco whispers as she passes by him in the ballroom, the deep green of his suit seeping across her gown like moss. “Then you are far too easily destructible,” Celia murmurs softly, winking at him as Chandresh sweeps by and offers her his arm. 
  • “I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held,” Celia says when he approaches her. “Trying to control what cannot be controlled. I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.”
  • “We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams around from place to place,” 
  • “You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.” 
  • You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words.

The Place: Budapest, Hungary during February


So much transpired in just a month, it would be futile to try to write it all down. I stayed a month longer than I initially had planned. I was supposed to leave on February 8th—right after my birthday—but instead I postponed it until March 8th.

Instead of trying to sum everything up in words, here’s some highlights of the past month and a collection of pictures:

  • Spent a weekend at Lake Balaton and tried traditional Pálinka
  • Celebrated my 24th birthday with friends from France who flew in, and a new circle of friends in Budapest
  • My friend from Vienna took the train in and we went to the thermal baths and ruin bars
  • Spent the day in Miskolc and went to a cave bath
  • Went to a friend’s hometown—Kalocsa—and then attended the Busójárás festival (to scare away winter and welcome the coming of spring) in Mohács
  • Took a four-day trip to Slovenia and went rowing at Lake Bled, explored the Postojna caves, visited the seaside town of Piran and went to Trieste, Italy for dinner
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