Monday, June 17, 2013

The Night Circus

Recently I had the good fortune to read 4 great books in a row:

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Up and Down, by Terry Fallis

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson

The Mistress of Nothing, Kate Pullinger

What a treat they were! The kind of books where you can’t turn the pages fast enough, yet you don’t want the book to end. Here’s a run-down.

The Night Circus
The Night Circus or Le Cirque des RĂªves is a magical mysterious place, set in the turn of the 19th Century, that appears suddenly where there was previously only an empty field. It opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. Visitors to the circus and the reader, too, are treated to a sensory feast. Black and white tents, housing different “acts”, a cloud maze in one, an ice garden in another, a tent of mirrors, an illusionist, a contortionist, and new things appearing all the time. Aromas of chocolate, caramel and mulled apple cider abound.  
Under the smoke and mirrors, however, is a puzzle: 2 young illusionists, Celia and Marco, since childhood, have been committed by their handlers to a fierce competition in which there can be only one winner. We don’t know why and neither do the young pawns. Celia and Marco prefer to collaborate and as they grow up, they fall in love. Illusions and magic become even more fantastical and the very structure of the circus becomes compromised. Disaster looms.
This wonderful fantasy carried me right away every time I picked it up. Morgenstern’s descriptions are exquisitely intricate. The magic was so inventive, I wanted to visit the circus myself. The puzzle lurks in the background, and while the action occurs in the present, we are also invited to view the past. 
When I looked at reviews for this book I found many readers disliked it intensely while others loved it like I did. I wonder what you will think of it?

Up And Down
Terry Fallis’s first two books, humorous takes on Canadian politics had me grabbing my sides and laughing out loud, so I was looking forward to reading this third novel, in which he takes on the public relations world. NASA is trying to boost public interest in the space program and our hero comes up with the idea of a lottery to send one American and one Canadian ordinary citizen (providing they can get through the training) into space.  
When the Canadian winner turns out to be a 70ish lesbian bush pilot from northern BC, the fun begins. 
Up and Down is a witty, light-hearted read. I enjoyed it immensely and heartily recommend it.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared
Okay, this book grabs you right away with a title like that. Allan Karlsson is not your average 100 year old man and he decides moments before his 100th birthday celebration at the retirement home that he’s had enough of this repressive lifestyle and he makes a run for it. At the bus station he takes a suitcase, not his own, onto the first bus that arrives and the craziness that follows springs from that split second decision. Interspersed with modern day calamities we are brought up to date on Allan’s incredible Forrest Gump-like life, an entertaining way to revisit the history of the last 100 years.

To top it off, who doesn't love an elephant as part of the cast?

"The 100-Year-Old Man..." was a hit when first published in Swedish and continued as a comedic smash when translated into English.
The Mistress of Nothing

The Mistress of Nothing is a more serious read than the three books above.  Set in Victorian times, it is based on the life of Lady Duff-Gordon and Sally Naldrett, her lady’s maid. Lady Duff-Gordon, with a devastating and difficult case of TB makes the life-changing decision leave her husband and children behind in England to travel with Sally to Egypt in order to live in a more temperate climate than smog-filled London. She lasts 7 years there and in that time both of the women find their lives transformed in ways they never could have foreseen.  
This novel won the Governor-General’s Award for English fiction in 2009. The story is told in Sally’s voice and is mainly about her interaction with the dragoman, Omar and her subsequent pregnancy. Kate Pullinger successfully conveys the sense of adventure that the women experienced initially, but times were different then and life was difficult, especially for women with no male companions. Choices made early-on lead to fewer choices available when the going gets rough.
What we the readers have is the chance to think about the different characters in the light of the challenges that they faced.