Review of THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really 3.5 stars, but I rounded up because of the quality of the writing.

A circus of dreams, open only during the hours of darkness. An ancient duel between two powerful sorcerers, enacted by proxy through a succession of students who are never allowed to understand why they are competing, or for what. A love story as doomed as it is inevitable. Lovely writing, sumptuous imagery, ingenious and exotic magics. All the ingredients, it would seem, for a truly extraordinary book.

And yet, though this is a novel of wonderful parts, somehow the whole didn’t add up for me. Perhaps because the cool present-tense narration is distancing, making it difficult to engage with the characters. Perhaps because the multiple points of view–including the reader’s, in a guided tour of the circus–are too diffuse, and these different story threads are knotted up too slowly. Perhaps because there’s so much imagery that–especially toward the end of the book where the tension should be unbearable–it becomes digressive. The circus is meant to be a character as much as any of the human protagonists, and the images are endlessly inventive and wonderful–but they slow the progression of the plot and ultimately have a flattening effect.

And yet THE NIGHT CIRCUS is a beautifully written book, the product of a gorgeous imagination. It’s flawed but lovely. I’ll be on board for the author’s next novel.

If you liked THE NIGHT CIRCUS, or if, like me, you felt it fell somewhat short, try Robertson Davies, especially the Deptford Trilogy.

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    1 comment to Review of THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern

    • You summed up exactly how I felt about The Night Circus. Amazing writing, but I never felt engaged with the story or the characters. But if this is what Morgenstern can do for a first book, I’ll definitely check out her future work.

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