Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Review: The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern


The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern


The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.


Review: On the surface, The Night Circus seems like a book I’d love. It’s got some magic, a historical setting, a nonlinear structure, beautiful writing, and is heavy on description. But, is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

Seriously, if I have to read one more long-winded description of a circus act, I’m going to lose my mind.

The Night Circus follows a group of characters who set up a magic circus. Two of these characters, Marco and Celia, are illusionists who have been trained since birth for a competition that will take place between them, but life becomes messy when they fall in love and try to end the competition.

“Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case.”  - The Night Circus

This is one of those books that leave you in awe of the writing. The author is massively talented and has a big imagination. Even though there is too much description, this book has the richest imagery I’ve come across in a long time. I actually reread pages because the writing is so detailed and atmospheric, and I wanted to know how the author did it.

But, I think the mysterious atmosphere turned out to be a double-edged sword. The atmosphere held my interest, but in order to create it, the author has to keep the reader very distant from the characters. The characters always know more than the reader, and we’re not allowed into their heads very often. I never felt like I knew them or connected with them. I never got invested in their lives.

The characters are kept mysterious, and the plot is, too. Actually, the book doesn’t have much of a plot. It meanders from event to event. Even the competition between Marco and Celia isn’t as suspenseful as the synopsis makes it seem. For most of the novel, the reader doesn’t know the stakes or rules of the contest. We’re expected to go along with what’s happening without knowing the reasons behind it.





The competition actually turns out to be kind of anticlimactic. There’s no head-to-head duel or dramatic action scenes. Basically, Marco and Celia have to keep making the circus bigger and more extravagant until one of them becomes exhausted and can’t do it anymore. They have to keep trying to out-pretty each other. Since magic can be done from a distance, Celia and Marco aren’t even on the same continent for most of the story.

“I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held. Trying to control what cannot be controlled. I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.” – The Night Circus

I also questioned why the story is set in the late 1800s/early 1900s. I’m not a history expert, but some of the small details seem wrong, and the characters don’t observe the social etiquette of the time. The setting adds mystery, but it also distracted me.

I think the synopsis might be misleading because readers can interpret it in different ways. If you like slow-paced literary fiction with beautiful writing, then you’ll love this book. If you go into it expecting a fantasy story with bold characters and a lot of action, then you’ll probably find it flat and lacking suspense.

This book didn’t give me everything I wanted, but the writing kept me reading.

“I couldn't tell the difference between what was real and what I wanted to be real.” – The Night Circus








13 comments:

  1. I have to admit I didn't love this book as much as everyone else seems to either. No doubt, it's beautifully written. And I wanted to finish the story. But like you said, the plot? I expected more from the whole magical battle and such... It was beautiful, but not what I was expecting.

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    1. Yeah, I also expected a lot more from the plot. The synopsis makes it sound like something big would happen.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  2. Wait. I've deleted my comment. How did I do that?

    What I meant to say was...

    This was exactly what I thought of this book. Amazingly skilled writing, but seriously lacking in plot and characterisation. Nice review!
    Claire @ BookBlogBird

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  3. I've never read this, but something about it has always made me wary to pick it up. I know that EVERYONE seems to love it. I just... wasn't sold. Your review actually makes me feel more confident in that decision. Plot and how I relate to the characters are SO important for my reading experience (and it sounds like yours too), so I can see why you didn't end up loving this one. Great review!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

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    1. Yeah, other than the atmosphere (which is brilliant), there’s not a lot going on in this story.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  4. Great review! I had similar thoughts when I first picked this book up. The world and writing was brilliant, but I had a difficult time trying to get a solid hold on the plot. I actually ended up putting the book down for a while before picking it up again because of it, but I still finished it. After all, the writing is beautiful!

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    1. I also considered putting the book down because it is very slow, but I’m glad I didn’t. The writing is so good.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  5. "Circus" is definitely not a way to get me to pick up a book in the first place, and having read your review, I will not be making an exception for this one.

    I like the quotes and bolded lines in your review. Really well-thought out. As you probably know, I usually only read reviews for books I've already read, but in this case you avoid anything that would feel like a spoiler to me while giving me a good sense of the overall effect.

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    1. Thanks! I’m glad the bold works. I’ve been experimenting with ways to make my reviews easier to skim. Most people don’t read long reviews word-for-word.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  6. I really enjoyed this book... BUT.. the plot! I thought there was going to be a huge battle between magicians and then that fell flat. I still think the world building in this book was something else! Just amazing. I can still picture the circus in my mind and I read the book a long time ago. And that cover.. beautiful!

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    1. Yes! This is totally a book that sticks in your mind for a long time. I think the synopsis is misleading, and I went into it with the wrong expectations.

      Aj @ Read All The Things!

      Delete
  7. You know, this review actually made me laugh :D I loved it so much. I think this is one of the best reviews I have read! I do have this one on my TBR because I really have heard a lot about it. It sounds really good and like it is constructed and written beautifully. But maybe it got a little too long winded and the lack of plot may be an issue for me :/

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