Jillian -always aspiring-'s Reviews > The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
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Dec 15, 11

bookshelves: covers-i-love, recommended-to-me, titles-i-love, 2011-reads, wish-i-could-write-a-book-like-this, writing-to-which-i-aspire, prose-envy, could-have-been-better, made-me-cry, left-me-with-mixed-feelings, should-have-loved-it-but-didn-t, reviewed
Recommended to Jillian -always aspiring- by: Eve Davids
Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys slow, thoughtful books that are best described as "layered creations"
Read from December 12 to 13, 2011, read count: 1

(Actual Rating: 3.5 stars)

Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus, is a book bound to divide book lovers into the "loved it" and "hated it" categories. Some people will adore the prose; others will despise it for being flowery and excessive. Some readers will hate the false promises the blurb on the jacket copy offers; others will still find something magical to love and admire in this novel despite the deception within the blurb. As for me, I was divided in my opinions. I mean, I really, really wanted that story the blurb promised about a "fierce competition" and "a deep, passionate, and magical love." I still want someone to write it since, sadly, Morgenstern didn't give it to me.

What Morgenstern did give me, however, was a lovely novel about the passage of time surrounding a circus concocted by magical means. The circus here is not just a location: it too is a character, one that is more vibrant than many of the other characters within this story. Morgenstern succeeds at making the magic wondrous and enchanting, although those looking for the rules to the enchantments will come away disappointed. There is no rhyme or reason to the magic here: it simply is, and that is as much a strength as it is a deficit.

The novel has no consistent timeline or narrative either, given that the chapters alternate among the past and present, standalone moments from the circus itself, and character viewpoints of varying importance. Although The Night Circus contains literary merit, it doesn't have quite enough spark to achieve everything all its build-up promised.

Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams) has an uncommon inception within London in 1873: two gentlemen, one who calls himself Prospero and the other who dons a grey suit and is known as Alexander, make a wager that two pupils of theirs will undergo a magical competition. Prospero's choice is his daughter, Celia, whom he has only been aware of for the past six months. Alexander, however, does not make his choice until the following January: an orphaned boy whose name Alexander does not care to know. These two children become bound together by a magical pact, but they remain unaware of each other for many years. Only once the magical circus, the chosen venue for the competition, is in its planning stages does the real game begin...

"Competition" doesn't quite fit what transpires within the circus because of the magic of Celia and Marco (the orphaned boy). There are no showdowns, no competitive scenes, no dangerous moments. Instead, the novel showcases how Celia and Marco try to one-up each other with how enchanting their various contributions to the circus can be. These enchantments, however, devolve into almost a flirtation between the two as they silently create new tents and exhibits for the sole purpose of impressing one another. It's a nice idea, but it would have born more weight if both sides had been aware of each other's identities sooner in the novel. Somehow, we're meant to believe that, with so much secrecy abounding, these two can honestly, truly fall in love. And that is one of the greatest flaws within The Night Circus: the love story is not deep, passionate, dangerous, or even really sensical, and it makes the story weaker than it otherwise might have been.

The first meaningful conversation between Celia and Marco occurs halfway through the book. Then, Morgenstern does the unthinkable: the next chapter is set three years later, and suddenly Marco is proclaiming, "I'm in love with her." Really? Really? There needed to be some transition between the two chapters, something to bridge the gap to show that something was growing in the hearts of these two individuals now that they were both aware of one another. Instead, the love between the two is shoddy and gimmicky, the stuff of an hour-and-a-half movie rather than a nearly 400-page novel with a literary bent.

Now, you must be wondering: "Jillian, if you had such a problem with the love story, why give the novel three-and-a-half stars?" Because the novel isn't just the love story. There was plenty more for me to like in this novel: the segments about the circus's various attractions, a plot line following a boy named Bailey who's in love with the circus, and the inclusion of rêveurs (dreamers) who follow the circus around the world. Basically, the circus is the main character...and, given what I read about it, I knew that if such a place existed I would probably be in love with it too. So I couldn't dislike the novel simply because the story introduced me to such an intriguing, enchanting place.

All my qualms and opinions aside, The Night Circus is a charming story, but it won't be for everyone simply because it's not as universal as it could have been. It may be a literary smash-hit for a time, but will it be a classic read in the decades to come? I doubt it. However, if Erin Morgenstern can hone her craft a bit more, then maybe someday she really will become a household name. For now, though, The Night Circus is the debut novel that will either enchant or alienate readers. Whether you will be one or the other, that all depends on how you fare with the circus and its offerings if you give this novel a go.
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Reading Progress

12/12/2011 page 5
1.0% "Such an enchanting way to open a book. I wish I could write like that." 2 comments

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Jessica B (new) - added it

Jessica B I absolutely loved your review!!! I'm definitely going to check this out thanks to your thoughts!


Cathy Thank you, you captured my thoughts better than anyone else. I may refer to your review in mine, if that's ok with you. You're right, it's all in the title, the circus is the main character, the rest are all supporting characters. And they and the plot suffer for it. But the imagery is lovely, for those who adore a dreamy lyrical read. Whoops, there's most of my review! I'd better remember what I said! It may change by the time I finish, I have about 100 pages to go.


Jill As much as I love to read, it is always difficult for me to put my impressions on paper (or computer). I give this book 2 stars (so far - I'm 2/3 of the way done), but for all of the reasons you put in your review!


Baxter Trautman Is this a wannabe "Something Wicked This Way Comes"?


Amanda Day Ditto to your whole review!


Liz (The Bookish Liz) This is a great review and sums up my feelings exactly. I think in my mind I enjoyed the circus more than the actual love story...and Bailey too :)


Annalisa I just reread your review after finishing the novel and writing my own and I agree with everything you said. I even said the same thing about the circus being the main character. I thought it was beautiful but it could have been more.


message 8: by Rochelle (new)

Rochelle Reynard For the most part, I agree with your view. The only one thing I disagree with is your opinion about the love story. I think Morganstern was using the love dynamic with Demitrius and Helena from "A Midsummer Nights Dream" with Celia and Marco--how thier love was not authentic, but created by outside forces, but nevertheless, their love was just as strong as "true" love... Of course, if this is the case, this theme is not as developed as it should have been.


Brynn I love your review! I was nodding along as I read it, I agree with absolutely everything you said


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