Who is this strange ‘you’ that the book addresses?
Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, opens with a brief prelude entitled Anticipation. The initial sentence reads:
The circus arrives without warning.
So at the outset there is the circus. Understandable, really, the circus is the central figure in the author’s story. So much so that a couple of the main characters literally become the circus by the end of the tale.
Then comes the crowd, a large group of people waiting at the gates to get access to the as-yet somnolent circus.
People marvel at the staggering height of the tallest tents. They stare at the clock that sits just inside the gates that no one can properly describe.
These people rarely exist as individuals. When they speak, it is as one of a crowd. They are there to admire, to relish in the circus. They are there, too, to welcome you. For it is only once this crowd of admiring spectators is assembled, that this curious ‘you’ steps onto the stage.
You are amongst them, of course. Your curiosity got the better of you, as curiosity is wont to do.
We learn you have a scarf around your neck and we even hear your occasional thought:
You yourself are debating departing when it happens.
Any thoughts this ‘you’ has are tied to the circus:
You think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the breeze (…)
And when you move, it is only to get a look at the illuminated inscription over the gates.
Leaning to your left to gain a better view, you can see it reads: Le Cirque des Rêves.
But this ‘you’ is given no substance, no distinctive marks, no personal history. You are not a character, although you will be an actor in the book. The moment the book says ‘you’, the ‘I’ that we are as readers reacts mentally with a surprised “Who me?” You are addressed, you are evoked, you are invoked. This ‘you’ invites you to take your place amongst the spectators waiting to enter the night circus. Reading this ‘you’ brings a thrill as if it hales a transgression, as if you should not step into a book so easily and that tremor of emotion coincides perfectly with the anticipation of the spectators as the doors of the circus swing open.
See also my review of The Night Circus.