When Erin Morgenstern’s first novel, The Night Circus, debuted last September, PW predicted in a starred review that this magical tale was destined for bestsellerdom. The hardcover went on to sell 167,000 copies through the outlets tracked by Nielsen BookScan, and the paperback, which was released at the beginning of the month, looks like it’s in for a long run on the New York Times list: it sold 11,000 copies its first week out. Anchor Books moved the pub date from May to accommodate Target, where it has been a book club pick for the month of July. It’s also the lead title in Costco’s current assortment and has front-of-store displays at Barnes & Noble and many independents. There are 210,000 copies of the paperback in print.
What our reviewer couldn’t have guessed is the creative spell cast on its fans by the intertwined stories of rival magicians Celia and Marco, who eventually fall in love, and of the farm boy, Bailey, and the twins. In part, that’s because, as Andrew Losowsky, Huffington Post books editor, points out, “It’s written in such a visual and visceral way. She almost designed her own fan club with black-and-white and a flash of red.” But it’s also because of Morgenstern’s theater and visual arts background. When she’s writing, Morgenstern told PW, she can see how a room is lit.
Plus, while she worked on the book, Morgenstern painted a deck of 78 tarot cards. “Sometimes I write what I can’t paint,” she says, “and I paint what I can’t write. I use a different part of the brain. I get ideas from painting and vice versa. Between the striped tents [of the circus] and the red scarves, the book has a visual vocabulary.” “The Phantomwise Tarot,” which can be viewed at phantomwise.com, is painted in similar tones with black and white acrylic.
Scent, too, plays a role, and Morgenstern views it as a character, so much so that Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, which has created scents based on Neil Gaiman’s work, is creating ones for The Night Circus. Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., which turned its store into a circus to celebrate the paperback release on July 3, has also gotten the circus bug. Not only did the store sell 150 books to the 200 revelers who joined them, but it’s now considering making the circus an annual event, according to manager and co-owner Dana Brigham.
As for Morgenstern, she’s trading in top hats for fedoras for her next book project: “a film noir–flavored Alice in Wonderland.”