Thursday, August 30, 2012

{Review} The Night Circus: A Novel by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus: A Novel by Erin Morgenstern
Published by Doubleday, 2011
Hardcover, 387 pages
ISBN 0385534639
Genres: adult fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, magic, magical realism, paranormal, romance, YA

Summary (via Goodreads): 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, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

My review: I enjoyed The Night Circus reasonably well. The descriptions of the circus creators’ parties, the circus itself, and the cities visited are marvelous. The characters are interesting and the lengthy span of time covered in the novel allows the reader to get to know them better than would otherwise be possible. The story is very involved with certain aspects becoming clearer and others more complicated the farther into the book you get. The circus is a magnificent creation on the part of the author and she clearly describes it so as to give the reader the feeling that they are really there eating licorice mice, visiting the striped tents, and being mesmerized by the magical shows found within.

My two favorite characters are Bailey Clarke, a young circus-goer, and Herr Friedrick Thiessen, a clockmaker. They are, I feel, the real heroes of the story and about the only ones I feel empathy for. Bailey is 10 years old the first time he visits the circus, immediately falling in love with it. Herr Thiessen develops such a deep connection with the circus that he begins writing articles about it and inadvertently forms a circus-lovers club of sorts. The rest of the characters are, as I mentioned, interesting, but I rarely felt any strong emotions towards them or about anything they did. I think one issue is a lack of character development. Celia and Marco don’t seem to ever change, and their parts in the ending were predictable and a little lackluster. Poppet and Widget, twins born into the circus, are sweet but they don’t significantly change either even though almost their whole lives are chronicled off and on.

The style of the book was rather aggravating and the constant jumping between characters, from city to city, and back and forth (and back and forth and back again) in time got very annoying. I enjoy books that jump around in time a bit and/or have flashbacks, etc. but this was just too much, especially since a whole “chapter” of the book would frequently only be one to two pages long. I feel that with a slightly more linear time frame my reading experience would have been greatly improved.

I suppose, though, my biggest problem with this book involves the basis of the plot: the magicians’ duel. What exactly was the point? The man in the grey suit (Alexander) and Prospero the Magician pit the two young people against each other, but why? What is their history? How many times have they done this? Was Prospero involved in one such duel earlier in his life? How old are they, anyway? Tsukiko enlightens the reader somewhat with her personal account and in one of the last sections of the book Widget and Alexander sit down together and talk, the latter giving a very slight explanation for what the duel was all about. Other than that, though, there really isn’t much information given. I don’t know if the author thought up this amazing premise and then had a hard time following through, or if she and her editor felt they couldn’t make the book any longer (it’s only 387 pages, though), or what happened, but I am pretty disappointed. I don’t hate this book by any means, and I would be interested in reading anything else Ms. Morgenstern writes next, but I don’t have any strong positive feelings about it either. The only people I would recommend this book to are those who are fast readers, have a good deal of patience, and already love fantasy and magic.

I would love to hear your thoughts on The Night Circus below and thank you so much for stopping by!

Mary Beth

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