I've been craving fiction of late. Getting back in touch with that itch to read late into the night, when I aught to be sleeping instead. Though I have an insatiable appetite for books, I'm a remarkably slow reader. This is partly due to mild dyslexia, and partly because I savor, taking time to chew each word thoroughly. It took me 10 years to finish the Wheel of Time series: my over-loved copies are ragged on the shelf, their covers completely worn away over time and held together with strategically placed scraps of tape. And so, I was surprised when the The Night Circus came and swept me away. I finished it in just a week (perhaps a record for me?) As you can see, the glossy paper cover with its clever circular circus cut-out remains intact.
I hadn't read a circus tale since Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. His circus is thrilling, and terrible, at once nostalgic and strange. Erin Morgenstern's description of Le Cirque des Revers is much less conflicted. Fully embracing whimsy, she is enchanting, deceptively direct, and quick to draw you in. I think I prefer my circus on the darker side, but I was impressed by her mastery of the senses: the weight of the fabric curtains, the warm and cool, the smokey wood and caramel smell. She even made shades of gray seem lively! One of my favorite descriptive moments was of sound. In the introduction, aptly named "Anticipation" she places the reader in the crowd gathered outside the mysterious circus, waiting for the gates to open "First there is a popping sound. It is barely audible over the wind and conversation. A soft noise like a kettle about to boil for tea" (pg. 10).
References to tea did not stop there. The entire book is peppered with porcelain cups (and even a full tea ceremony at one point), which are more than set dressing to Morgenstern. She uses tea in practical ways: to give her characters something to nervously hold, to offer as a polite gesture, to sip and buy time, or to abandon and grow cold. She also uses it as a device to move the story forward. Many carefully described and delicate tea cups were broken in service of character development. Through a cup, we're introduced to the illusionists powers. And through another cup that same illusionist comes to realize the consequence of power. It is my favorite moment in the book.
As someone with a fondness for tea, I found myself constantly wondering; what kind of tea would they be drinking in this scene? The author is more than capable of describing flavor, as she demonstrates handily in her accounts of the mysterious "midnight dinners" where the minds behind Cirque des Reves gather to taste culinary works of art. Though I scoured the book for tea related details, I only found mention of a particular type of tea once.
The reference was so perfect, I had to smile. I was not surprised then to discover that Erin Morgenstern is in fact a tea lover, as she mentions on her website. When I'm finished knitting my red scarf and joining the Reveurs, I think I'll make a Night Circus inspired tea. I'm imagining one for the circus itself: black tea, with white accents like a starry sky (maybe slivered almonds?). An autumn taste with notes of caramel, smoke, and some strange unplaceable spice. A secret ingredient. Les Cirque Des Reves in a cup.