Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus

Night Circus - cover shot The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern

Harvill Secker, $32.95, October 2011

The Night Circus is an astonishingly rich and detailed work of the imagination, bringing to life a world firmly grounded in late nineteenth century England and, within it, a small group of people with magical powers.

Two shadowy master magicians pit their prize students, Marco and Celia, against one another in a duel which neither of them wanted nor fully understands. Their arena is a travelling circus, the Circus of Dreams, which is a mix of illusions and real magic, circus artists and magicians – acrobats, a tarot reader who can indeed see into the future, an ice garden, jugglers and an illusionist whose feats are not tricks. Only after Marco and Celia find themselves in love do they discover that their duel can end only in death. Or can they escape the trap their teachers have so callously constructed?

Twilight has driven a surge of interest in paranormal romance but The Night Circus rises far above that level, beautifully written and seamlessly integrating a wealth of esoteric knowledge. It merits comparison with Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, which won nearly every fantasy award in its year of publication. That was a debut novel, as is this. History may be about to repeat.

• Review written and first published in 2011, added to this site in December 2020.

Plenitude – Juliet Schor

• Plenitude is now over ten years old and this review, added to the blog in January 2021, was first published in 2010. Ten years is a long time in terms of our understanding of climate change but Schor’s analysis and conclusions are as relevant as ever.

Plenitude-Schor-coverPlenitude
Juliet Schor
Scribe, $35.00

Global warming, Peak Oil and the instability of our financial system mean that Business As Usual will doom us and the next generation to miserable lives in a degraded environment.

Yes, you have heard it all before (and may or may not believe it) but Juliet Schor has an answer: ‘Plenitude’, her term for an alternative to BAU which avoids any eco-miserly austerities but will give us happier, richer lives while avoiding eco-disaster and another financial melt-down.

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Gemmell: The Book of Rapture

Book of Rapture coverNikki Gemmell tackles big themes in her new novel – science, religion and the evils of tyranny, no less. She universalises her subject by disguising ethnic groups, religions, cities and languages and the supposed origin of her text, while simultaneously individualising it by focusing on a mother’s love for her children.

The political situation is all too familiar to us, an authoritarian regime attempting genocide against a minority within its own population. (No, I won’t call it ‘ethnic cleansing’, because that disgustingly cynical phrase attempts to give state-sanctioned racism, persecution, brutality and murder a semblance of virtue, and using the term legitimises it.) The minority is defined by both ethnic and religious affiliation — again, an all-too-familiar scenario.

One minority family is caught in the middle. Continue reading “Gemmell: The Book of Rapture”

Gleitzman: Grace

book coverGrace tells the story of her family’s escape from a fundamentalist Christian cult in this powerful Young Adult novel from one of Australia’s best writers in the field. She is a teenager who has never known anyone outside her church community, because its members are forbidden to speak to the ‘unsaved’ except with special exemptions. They go to church schools, marry within the church and work in church-owned businesses. They accept the Bible, as interpreted by their Elders, as the ultimate authority on every aspect of their daily lives, and they accept cruel and bizarre punishments meted out by the Elders for any questioning or infringement of the doctrine.

Grace’s father has quietly questioned this peculiar way of life and brought up his children to do the same but he has not been quiet enough and, as the book opens, is expelled from the community. Continue reading “Gleitzman: Grace”

Gaiman: Coraline

[This is my 2008 review of the graphic novel, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell, with some afterthoughts.]

book coverNeil Gaiman has been having a very good year, for about the tenth year in a row, writing fantasy for all ages and adapting it for other media. Coraline was his big success in 2003-04 as a short children’s novel, winning the Hugo, Locus, Nebula and other awards.

It is already available as an audiobook, it is in production as an animated film and here it is as a graphic novel (a classy comic book, to those who think ‘graphic novel’ is pretentious).

Does Coraline deserve this much attention?

Continue reading “Gaiman: Coraline”