Judy grew up in Bavaria because of her military father being stationed there. Her mother was a neurotic and exacting woman who eventually had to be hospitalized. Judy's feelings about her childhood in Germany influenced her choice in becoming a Waldorf school teacher. Waldorf schools celebrate they beauty of childhood and fantasy, encouraging even the teachers to believe in gnomes. Nothing damaging is allowed at a Waldorf school. There is no candy, no t-shirts with Disney characters on them, nothing that could ruin the natural process of growth. In this idealized setting, Judy finds herself estranged from her husband whom she discovers is hooked on pain pills. She is in a state of shock over losing her best friend to cancer, and her children are drifting away. Alone and frustrated, she finds herself attracted to one of her son's friends. Zachary is only sixteen, yet Judy engages in a physical relationship with the boy who is a student at the very school where she teaches.
Their forbidden romance cannot end well, but the culmination of Julia's punishment is a taut, intense story. This is a difficult topic to read about, but the author manages to balance the raw passion with modesty of language. I was particularly interested in the layering of symbolism of the Bavarian folk tales and Catholicism juxtaposed with our contemporary values and social mores. This is a dark, primal, and often disturbing love story.
And as the two great magicians watch, their students Celia and Marco grow fonder of each other. Should the older magicians step in? After all, love has no part in the contest.
The Night Circus is a great work of fantasy and illusion. Many people make up the characters that run the Circus of Dreams as it calls itself. There are twins who never grow old. A fantastic clockmaker who can almost control time and a contortionist who can contort her body into beautiful creations. We meet them through their interactions with Celia and Marco. Celia joins the circus as an illusionist. Marco becomes the assistant to the proprietor. But they are both inexorably drawn to each other.
The language of the story flows in colorful streams of invention and imagination. The characters are vividly described as are their relationships. This is a book to get lost in just as the circus goers must be directed to leave lest they lose themselves in the Circus of Dreams. A wonderful debut.