Part V: Divination 

An excerpt from Herr Thiessen’s writings reveals that he does not think of himself as a writer, but as a gateway to the circus. He ruminates on how writings can transport a reader to the circus when they cannot attend it themselves. He considers it something like magic. A second extract is from Act IV, Scene I of The Tempest by William Shakespeare. In this scene, Prospero compares life to a dream.  

Fates Foretold 

There is no line to the fortune-teller’s tent. Instead of a crystal ball or a deck of cards, she uses a scattered handful of stars on her table. After performing her reading, the fortune-teller offers a reminder that the future is not set in stone.  


Poppet arrives at Chandresh’s house to find it in complete disarray. Chandresh tells her that he dismissed everyone on his staff except for the cooks. He asks why she is there and Poppet explains that she would like him to sign over ownership of the circus to her, Widget, and Bailey. They fill out the paperwork while they talk about the circus. Poppet asks Chandresh about a series of blueprints that are hanging on the walls. He explains they’re plans Mr. Barris sent him. Poppet helps him discern that they’re for a museum and they piece the plans together. Chandresh calls for Marco and, embarrassed, admits that he often forgets that Marco isn’t there anymore but he can’t remember why. Poppet tells him that Marco left to be with Celia. She offers to stay in London long enough to help him find a new assistant, which accepts. She gifts him a black and white kitten and tells him that she wouldn’t give him his memory back even if she could. When she kisses him on the cheek, Chandresh feels his mind clear as a fog lifts from it.  


Widget meets with the man in the grey suit over a glass of wine and talk extensively of stories. They debate whether there are any simple tales left as Widget believes there are while the man in the grey suit disagrees. The man in the grey suit argues that stories are growing ever more complex. When the conversation turns to Celia and the challenge, the man in the grey suit explains how it all started. Hector was once a student of the man in the grey suit and believed that the systems he learned from him were outdated. Hector began teaching a new method and they pitted their students against one another to see which method was the strongest.  

Widget tries to read the man in the grey suit but can only see parts of his past. When the man in the grey suit asks what purpose his power serves, Widget tells him that he tells stories with it. The man in the grey suit explains that stories are real magic for the way that they can inspire people and change the future. Widget asks the man in the grey suit if the game is over, and he tells him that it is complicated because it cannot go on as the players are but it hasn’t been completed exactly. Widget insists that they talk about tying up the loose ends of the challenge so that the circus can be free of it. When Widget tells him to name his price, the man in the grey suit asks for a story. Specifically, he wants the story of what brought them to where they are as told from Widget’s heart. He begins the story by saying that the circus arrives without warning. 

Beaux Rêves

The narrative assumes the second person point of view one final time as dawn approaches and the circus nears closing. Passing through the curtain once again, the courtyard gives way to the entrance. There is a plaque at the bottom of the great clock that stands as a memorial to Herr Thiessen and Chandresh. A woman at the ticket booth offers a business card for the circus with Bailey’s name on it along with an email address. Stepping back through the gate into the adjacent field, it is no longer clear whether the dream is inside or outside of the fence.  


Part V carries out the falling action of the novel as the loose ends are tied up. Poppet attends to the practical transfer of the circus by getting Chandresh to sign it over, and Widget sees to its metaphysical transfer by making a deal with the man in the grey suit. In addition, while he’s not shown as the proprietor of the circus directly on the page, Bailey’s card is given to the second person subject in “Beaux Rêves,” which provides resolution for his fate as well. The other characters are discussed in these chapters, with Poppet helping Chandresh and the other Conspirators being accounted for during their conversation. Widget confirms that Celia and Marco are still haunting the circus when he speaks with the man in the grey suit, which proves a surprise to him, but answers the question of whether the protagonists and the circus survived the second lighting of the bonfire.  

When the man in the grey suit speaks with Widget about this challenge in “Stories,” he refers to the one between Marco and Celia as the final game, implying that there will not be another challenge in the future. Though this is said in passing, it carries a significant weight as it means that the events that unfolded during Celia and Marco’s challenge made the man in the grey suit unwilling to proceed with another one. Given Hector’s attitude about the challenges overall, it’s unlikely that he was the one to put a stop to the games, but as the man in the grey suit became increasingly upset about the negative effects of the challenge, it is implied to be his choice to end it. His disgust with and contempt for Hector the night that Herr Thiessen died is a profound indictment of the system they created, and its death proves that the man in the grey suit finally understands this too.  

At the end of “Stories,” Widget begins the story he trades with the man in the grey suit for the circus with the opening line of the novel, bringing the narrative full circle. This metanarrative explores the idea of a story within a story and accounts for many of the otherwise unusual narratives that play out during the course of the novel. The novel itself is a collection of micro stories as chapters are told from numerous points of view, including in second person, and include collage-like elements of poetry and fictional newspaper articles. In the end, the man in the grey suit’s price is specifically the story of the circus, implying the novel itself is the price Widget pays. Importantly, Widget’s words are the final line in the novel save for a single chapter, “Beaux Rêves,” which stands outside of the rest of the narrative by using a second person narrator and taking place in the modern era.   

The fortune-teller using stars to divine the fate of the second person subject in “Fates Foretold” suggests that it’s Poppet, not Isobel, who is now telling fortunes at the circus. While it’s not clear what happens with Isobel after she meets with Marco in London, she does tell him that Celia let her leave the circus. This implies that Celia disentangled her from the magical “net” that holds everyone to it. As Poppet stays with the circus after the bonfire is relit means that she is in a position to use her powers by replacing Isobel as the fortune-teller at the circus after Isobel leaves.  

The final chapter of the book utilizes the second-person point of view to reveal that circus has survived long into the modern era. While the second to last chapter of plot takes place in 1903, final chapter presents a business card at the gate that has Bailey’s name listed as the proprietor along with an email address. This clever use of modern technology subtly asserts that Bailey has been able to keep the circus going until the era of the internet. This card also asserts the timeline for all of the other corresponding second-person sections, implying that everything that they have seen up until that point is still thriving a century into the future, from the Wunschtraum clock to the statue-like depiction of Celia and Marco.