Annalisa's Reviews > The Night Circus

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
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Aug 07, 12

bookshelves: fantasy, literary
Recommended for: some language, vague sexual content
Read from February 03 to July 13, 2012

2.5 stars

I wish I'd been able to review this when I finished it. My impressions aren't crystal clear anymore, but I've also had more time to digest my overall feel, so I'm arranging this review by bullet points.

-Setting: I'm not a circus fan, but I thought the night circus was a fun idea. The black-and-white tents, the midnight dinners, the carnival food, the clock. Although Morgenstern faulted on the side of too much description, she did set a mystical ambiance that gives the book a certain charm. (I can visualize book clubs having fun with their own Night Circus nights.) Having said that, I struggled with it. The promise of a magical battle barely strung me along through the first half of the novel without moving forward enough. The book was all over the place and there wasn't enough going on for me to be drawn into it as I would have liked. It felt like the point of the book was more about marketing a black and white circus than the story.

-Mixing Narrative Voices & Non-sequential Storytelling: Not a fan. I get that Morgenstern wanted the circus to come alive for us with the second person, but anytime an author dictates what I do or feel, I stubbornly resist. I skimmed most of the second-person sections. At least they were short. The non-sequential storytelling felt too scattered for me. By the climax, I didn't mind the story jumping back and forth-- although I didn't think there was enough explanation why the parallel climaxes took place a whole year apart--but a lot of the book I didn't pay attention to the dates at the top of the chapters and had trouble piecing it all together and understanding why it was told that way. If she wasn't going to use a linear storyline, I would have liked more of grasp of the passing of time from one chapter to the next, an effect that this was different from then and how the scenes affected each other.

-Magical Competition: I loved the idea, and while I can see why the conclusion could be disappointing for some readers, I actually enjoyed Morgenstern's solution to the unsolvable problem. However, I felt like the showdown was a lot more promise of what was to come and then skimming through years of what could have been some powerful and beautiful displays of magic, so that the conclusion wasn't as powerful as it could have been. For all that description Morgenstern spent setting up the circus, when it came to how the magicians battled each other, I found a lot lacking. In fact, I found a lot of key points in the novel lacking in adequate description. Which brings me to my next point.

-Mystery: In beginning there was enough draw in the mystery to pique my interest and in the end there was too much mystery to satisfy me. I can understand trying to keep people in suspense, but in the climax when Morgenstern was still keeping readers in the dark, I got frustrated. All those little questions she planted in my mind started to pile up and not all of them were adequately explained. The more pressing items were answered to my satisfaction and everything wrapped up beautifully, but I still had these nagging questions when I closed the book.

-Romance: This was my biggest disappointment. I liked what Morgenstern was going for, but there was no chemistry, no growth, no passion between the lovers to pull off a powerful and beautiful resolution. I also never felt the danger or anxiety for them that I should have. Often I was more interested in Bailey's story than Marco or Celia's. Morgenstern should have saved some of that description of the carnival for its participants' plight. Instead, the circus became the main character of the book. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but where the romance is so pivotal to the story and showdown, a better executed one could have turned this 2-star-shifting-toward-3 book into a 4-star one for me.

Morgenstern can be eloquent and beautiful and I would read her again. This was a rather ambitious novel that didn't reach its potential, but still rather accomplished for a first novel.
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Reading Progress

02/07/2012 page 48
12.0% "Paused. Due back at the library."
03/07/2012 page 128
33.0% "Just marking my spot for the next time I check this out of the library."
07/13/2012 page 387
100.0% "Nothing like a library deadline and a flight to make me finish a book. I ended up liking it though. Review to come when I'm back in town."

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Lucy I also read this awhile ago and still haven't read a review. But, after reading yours, I was nodding my head so I agree with you. So much potential and so many things I liked but, overall, I was disappointed.


Annalisa Ooh, I'd love to read your review. Yeah, I remember when I finished the book, thinking 3.5 stars, but now I'm wondering why the extra 1/2 star so I took it off. You should read my friend's review. We saw the book the same way.
This friend hated it, but he makes some good points (be forewarned, he uses the f word).


Caroline The romance is definitely one of the book's biggest failures. I thought the exact same thing: NO heat, NO chemistry between the characters, heck, not all that many SCENES with the two of them together. >:[


Annalisa I'm trying to remember why I gave this 3, almost 4, stars?? All I remember is being frustrated by so much in the novel. Must be because it was unusual and some of the secondary characters made up for such a lack in the main characters. Seriously, it could have been awesome if the romance were a greater pull in the novel, intertwined with the circus into a cool magical event.


Caroline I am deeply disappointed for what this book could have been. I love a quality romance, and this one sounded like it was one, blended with one of my favorite genres: fantasy. If only it were acceptable for authors to rewrite, then reissue their books to the public. I think this book needs serious tightening and FAR LESS focus on details. God, the details! I don't care about the fucking caramel popcorn, for God's sake. Give me some plot and some suspense!

You were more generous than I was with your three stars. I didn't think twice about giving this a single star. It was pure torture for me (took forever to get through because I found it so boring, especially in the middle). I only finished it because I had to for my real-life book club.


message 6: by Annalisa (last edited Apr 22, 2013 02:25PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Annalisa I reserve my 1-star shelf for books I truly hate and even though it dragged (I returned it to the library twice before I finished it), I didn't hate it. I thought for sure it would get 2 stars though, but I guess I liked the end enough that I bumped it up to 3 stars, which is weird because the magical showdown was such a letdown. I liked the resolution of it but not the buildup and lack of display. I seriously think Bailey saved the book for me. He was the only thing that really interested me through the middle.

I wouldn't have minded all that description if some of it had included the magical showdown. Some description of the circus was cool, but it definitely dragged and dragged, and then there was no description of the important things (the events at the circus, the magical showdown, the love story). I think she got so caught up in making the circus cool that she didn't focus enough on the plot or characters. Definitely a case of first-time writer problems.

I would hate it overall if writers rewrote and republished their works, but there are times when I would embrace a rewrite with open arms. Breaking Dawn and The Lovely Bones top that list. The most disappointing books are the ones with the most potential that don't live up to that potential so I can totally see why you'd rate this 1 star.


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