Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 16 to December 12, 2013
Read count: 1

This book is one of the few that works better as an audiobook because it’s got lovely flowing sentences that sound great when spoken aloud, especially by the great Jim Dale. There so many lovely fantastical sensory details that suck you right into the dreamy magical world of Le Cirque des Rêves. The downside, however, is it’s a chore to read on your own, as I found out (more below the spoilers). I started out reading and I really enjoyed the first few chapters, but then the story went on and on for too long without much happening, and so all those lovely fantastical descriptions lost their luster and became grating. I lost full interest somewhere in the middle, right around the time I realized the competition between the two rival magicians was going nowhere and that it wasn’t actually a competition, more like an awkward one-up-man-ship. So I ended up finishing the read via Jim Dale on audio. He’s amazing, so amazing he saved this book for me. Anyone who’s interested in this book should try it on audio first.

Now for the hard part. I’ll try easing into it.

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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

Once in a while you come across a book that you may or may not enjoy, but the experience of reading it teaches you something new about yourself. This book taught me that the older I get, the less patience I have for flowery prose and meandering story arcs, specifically those that take too long to get to…nowhere. I think I outgrew purple prose when I realized, too often, they’re used as a diversion, rather than a device, to pan the reader’s attention away from a weak story or revelation or, in this case, a lack of a magical battle to the death by two “worthy” opponents who are “madly” in love with each other. The battle to the death is a big deal at the beginning of the story, so it’s a cop out for the story to not raise the bar every time the two magicians “battle.” A bar was raised, though not one that affects the story much. It’s more like a bar of frivolity, as in to see which magician can make the most breakable set on the circus. The ending is a huge disappointment because nothing happened. Well, nothing interesting or unpredictable happened. The plotting simply did not deliver. What also disappointed me was that Morgenstern resorted to deus ex machinas to resolve the “battle to the death” issue for the express purpose of uniting the two love birds–forever and ever. So all that build up to this huge confrontation was just all for show, like the Night Circus itself.

Frankly speaking, I feel cheated, but glad that I decided get this book from the library instead of purchasing my own copy. I don’t mean it’s a terrible book. It just lacks many things I enjoy in a fantastical yarn. Nice prose is great. Nice prose is necessary (sometimes). Nice prose is always welcomed…as long as it doesn’t take up the whole story and/or isn’t used as a substitute for plot or character development (because that’s a cop out and I’d want my time, effort, and money back).

This is my round-about way of saying I thought I’d like this book more because it’s got everything I love stuffed into it. I certainly don’t hate it. I just hate feeling cheated out of a potentially great story.

On the other hand, I feel as though I should like this book more because it’s got all the qualifications of a book I would like. And that’s why, even though I find the execution unsatisfying, I still can’t critique it directly because it’s a lovely book. Also, if you look at its background, you’d be impressed that it started as a nanowrimo draft. From that to what it is now–what it has achieved now–is impressive. Extra credits for that, I suppose?

It’s a nice book though. Great as an autumn read.

Morgentern does have a way with language and a way to make you experience the story, rather than just reading it. Her descriptions of tactile sensations are just lovely. Everything is just lovely actually, from the writing to the world of the night circus to the mystery of magic to the effervescent chill in the air.

Unfortunately, that’s my problem with it, that everything is too lovely and serves no other purpose than just being lovely. Things started to become grating when I realized the story was going nowhere due to a lack of further plot and character development. Even the intrigue and slight-of-hand magic established earlier in the story lost their novelty. The lovely things in the Night Circus kept building on each other and growing in loveliness, but the rest of the story couldn’t keep up. Actually, it stayed stagnant until the end. That annoyed me the most, the repetitiveness of how lovely and meandering the writing became without the depth of a fulfilling story. There was so much that could have been delved into, like Marco’s and Celia’s awful father figures and terrible childhoods. Morgenstern could have built a whole world around both characters’ traumatic pasts, but she didn’t. She chose to over look that part of their characterization. Oh, well.

This story could have been much more than what it is. It could have been much more than just lovely. It had a solid foundation to support a much richer, deeper, darker fantasy in the style of Neil Gaiman or Alice Hoffman. Which got me thinking, maybe it would have been better as a short story.

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2 thoughts on “Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

  1. litanyliterature December 1, 2015 / 1:13 am

    Excellent review (for both the 1st read and the reread). Funny, I got interested in this book in hopes of some good character and story and it seems like that’s precisely what it’s lacking!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi December 1, 2015 / 10:14 am

      Thanks, Jocelyn. It’s still a decent book though, just not as well constructed as it could’ve been. Despite it not working for me, I know it works for others and I’ve often recommended it to friends more often than some of my favorite books. It’s good for moments when you’re looking for something light and whimsical with a fairytale-like feeling.

      Like

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