Week #14: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Another week, another fairytale. As you can see in my picture above, Erin Morgenstern’s novel contains pages with black and white graphic designs interspersed throughout the text. The colors match the themed palette of Le Cirque des Reves, the night circus of the title. Arriving “without warning” and setting up on the outskirts of town, the circus “Opens at nightfall. Closes at dawn.” Everyone that attends falls in love with the enthralling acts staged in each tent – a medley of contortionists, acrobats, magicians, rides, and mazes.
Enchanting and mysterious, the novel deals with an epic contest between two ancient wizards: Mr. A. H. and Prospero the Enchanter. Each trains a young surrogate for this battle that can only end in the destruction of one of the contestants. Prospero uses his daughter Celia, while Mr. A.H. plucks Marco out of an orphanage. This young pair eventually begins their competition against the backdrop of the circus, where the magicians take turns conjuring up new and exciting tents. Although this rivalry presents itself clearly to the reader, the two surrogates are left to discover the true nature and consequences of their contest on their own. As with any good fairytale, Marco and Celia become star-crossed lovers attempting to subvert their fated end.
Morgenstern’s debut novel is also accompanied by an impressive amount of online content. In addition to a book trailer, Morgenstern’s website boasts an 8tracks playlist (I especially enjoyed track from the Vertigo soundtrack) and a chance to explore the world of the night circus online. I’m not sure that I enjoy book trailers generally, but I do appreciate the musical accompaniment.
Fairytale – check. Romeo and Juliet plotline – check. Happy ending? You’ll have to read to find out.
I had the privilege of attending Dan Ariely’s lecture at the University of Pennsylvania yesterday. Ariely calls himself a behavioral economist, and many of the principles he has researched inform the studies I do at work. His book, Predictably Irrational, has been on my to-read list for a while, and I was excited to attend. In his lecture “Free Beer: Some Experiments in Human Dishonesty”, Ariely detailed some of his recent studies on cheating. These studies show that cheating is common and that many people are creative with their justifications for bending the rules.
Week #14: The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
Siblings Daphne and George Sawle fall simultaneously in love with the charming poet Cecil Valance after he visits their family’s country estate, Two Acres. Cecil plays both brother and sister, writing the pair poems and stealing kisses when he can. Alan Hollinghurst’s sprawling novel begins in rural England in 1913 and chronicles Cecil’s legacy to the present day. Each time Hollinghurst begins a new chapter, he launches forward a few generations. Although I was hooked during the first book, I lost interest as the story advanced and it became more and more difficult to trace the plot back to Cecil Valance. Exploring issues of both gay English culture and societal classes, the novel was my least favorite of these two.
Week #15: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This mystery seemingly reveals the resolution at the outset: a group of five friends from Hampden College kill their friend Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran. Instead of trying to discover the crime or the culprit, the reader faces a different set of questions: how and why did this group of friends feel the need to murder one of their own?
When narrator Richard Papen finds himself on Hampden’s beautiful Vermont campus, he has only one wish - to join Julian Morrow’s elite Classics class. With only six students, Julian personally tutors each student and creates uniquely tailored curricula for each. Richard ingratiates himself with the other students and soon becomes part of Morrow’s cult-like student body. Honored by their acceptance, Richard ignores the warning signs of the group’s dangerous behaviors. Henry Winter, the wealthy and intellectual leader of the friends, induces the group to perform a Dionysian Bacchanal with calamitous results.
Donna Tartt’s debut novel held my attention long after identifying Bunny’s fate in the prologue. This campus murder mystery slowly unfolds, creating new questions each time one is answered. Despite its unrealistic plotline, Tartt’s novel succeeds partly because of how plausible it seems that these once harmless classics students transform into murderers.