The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for drudgery


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Ailment: Drudgery

Cure: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

September means drizzle, mist and the return to routines. And even if you spent your summer digging up truffles in Tuscany or crabbing in Devon, the thought of the daily grind stretching ahead can be disheartening. As an antidote, we prescribe daily doses of Erin Morgensstern's debut novel.

The circus which gives this novel its central theme appears without warning, popping up in London, Paris, New York, its distinctive black and white tents concealing a set of circus acts like no other. Open only at night, the entertainments include a maze made of towering clouds, roomfuls of sculpted ice-flowers, contortionists, and fortune-tellers. But the difference between this circus and other turn-of-the-century amusements is that here the magic is real – so real that the magicians have to work doubly hard to pretend it's all an illusion.

Behind the scenes, two men of indeterminate age – Prospero the Enchanter and the 'man in a grey suit' – enjoy a rivalry which they express by playing 'the game'. This involves binding two children into a lifelong challenge. When Prospero's six-year-old daughter Celia is forced to pit her skills – in this case, her gut intuition – against the book-learned magic of nine-year-old Marco, it becomes apparent that the stakes of this game are high: only one of them can survive. Perhaps inevitably, they complicate things further by falling in love.

Meanwhile, those members of the audience who become enraptured by Le Cirque des Rêves follow them from city to city, wearing red scarves and discovering new wonders every night. Become a 'reveur' like them. Tie a red scarf round your neck to show you refuse to let drudgery rob your life of colour. Then set out to discover the boundless possibilities of the universe in a single raindrop.