The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This book is: a disappointment.
Other elements: circuses, vagueness, mist, confusion, mysteries, stripes, clocks, incorporeal fathers.
Read it: if your love of description outweighs your desire for a coherent story.
Overall rating: 5/10
This book has a great title, a beautiful cover, an intriguing description, and volumes of positive press. It has a a 3.99/5 rating on Goodreads, with 127,824 reviews. That’s largely why I decided to read it, despite the lukewarm review of a friend of mine whose literary opinions I usually agree with.
I’m not saying I hated this book. There were elements that I enjoyed – specifically, the description of the different elements of the fantastical titular circus. The author has an incredible imagination and, when she chooses to focus, can describe things marvelously.
There were a number of these moments in the book, when I would sit up and think “oh, there’s what everyone’s so excited about, I guess it must be time for this to get good!”. It never happened, though. There was no glue holding the bright moments together.
The story is murky. I think it’s possible that the author was trying to make the experience of reading the story mirror the experience of wandering through the mysterious circus – which I can understand as a goal, but it did not work in practice. There was too much mystery and too much distance. I didn’t feel as though I were gazing at something magical and appreciating it for the enigma that it was, I felt as though the movie I was watching was out of focus and I couldn’t change the TV settings. The story wanders around through both time and location, jumping back and forth until you have no clue as to when and where you are except for the chapter titles (which I stopped reading because I was so annoyed that I needed to depend on them).
Every character in the novel is an enigma. The reader is never let inside any of their heads enough to really understand or bond with them. Actually, it was worse than that. There were two different points in this novel when I realized that two characters who I’d thought were the same person were actually two different people. Such an error really shouldn’t be possible once, let alone twice.
There is a spoiler of sorts in the next paragraphs. If you don’t want to risk knowing what happens, stop reading now.
My #1 complaint about this book is this: despite all of the mystery in the details, the plot at the center of this book was so predictable that I was almost surprised when there was no twist. The fate of the two main characters was precisely what I expected it to be from the first chapter – no, from when I read the summary of the book at the library. Girl and boy in opposition to each other fall in love. For either to win, the other must die. Almost 400 pages of mysteriousness and it’s all wasted on another incarnation of the Romeo and Juliet double-suicide story.
The story is also rife with details that didn’t make any sense. For example: Why does Marco hide his true face if nobody knows what he looks like, anyway? Why does Bailey get to the circus so late that he misses it if he genuinely intends to join it and is so familiar with its routines? How can a boy who knows nothing about magic anchor a series of illusions so complex that they were going to end up killing an accomplished practitioner of magic? And what was the deal with Celia’s mother?
I like things to make sense, and I need to care about the characters in a story to care about the story. This book didn’t make sense and it didn’t make me care. By the end, my main motivation for picking this up was to finish it so that I could move on.
Has anyone else read this? Did you like it more than I did? I know it was pretty popular for a while.