Before reading my modest (ha!) evaluation, please read Bird Brian's review. He said just about what I was going to say, so consider his review as the preface to mine--or mine as the addendum to his. In any event, we agree, except in the number of stars. I gave it a star for how well its written Ms. Morgenstern maintains a good narrative rhythm throughout and she describes vividly. So vividly, in fact, that the only medium I think that could capture this novel would be an animated film. Pixar! Are you paying attention? This novel screams "Disney!" Nowhere else can spilt wine from a shattered goblet, pick itself up off the tablecloth, and go back into the miraculously rebuilt goblet.
Unfortunately, Morgenstern played a version of this at least 5 times. Once would have been enough. In fact, none would have been better since she was portraying Celia as an illusionist. This isn't illusion. It's downright magic, totally undoable except in Cartoon Land. Wasn't there a scene like this in Snow White? I was 4 when I saw that, and I already knew it was a gyp. I saw how floors had to be labored over, and spills of wine? They didn't leap off the tablecloth, as attested to by the stains on our Passover and Sabbath tablecloths. Then, too, when wine glasses shattered, they didn't re-form themselves, which is why we had such a motley crew of them instead of a matched set. If this wouldn't have convinced me at 4 (a precocious 4, of course), it sure wasn't going to work for me at 77.
Why couldn't I just take the fantasy for what it was? Because Morgenstern lied. She said the circus was about
illusion. Celia was supposed to be the Mistress of Illusion or some such, but this sort of Disneyesque scenario is not
illusion. Illusion is Siegfried and Roy or Doug Hennings. You see someone in one place. Then they appear in another though you never saw them go from the first place. In fact often they're shackled in a strong cage before being ported, but when we get to "Ta Da" the shackles have dosappeared. Or, illusion is plucking gold coins out of an unsuspecting person's ear. Those are illusions. They work because th illusionist knows how to divert the audience's attention while he or she is manipulating the action. Illusions,in the true sense of the word, don't do the impossible: such as spilt liquid gathering together and putting itself back in a glass. Nor is it Celia walking down a street and changing the color of her hair from the roots down as she ambles along. Those would be outright magic--or miracles. Even Jesus didn't do miracles like these, although they'd have been very convincing in letting people know He was divine. His first miracle was to make enough wine for the wedding. But he didn't have the wine jumping into carafes on its own.
As for the love affair between the two rivals, what love? If you're expecting bodice-ripping crazy love, well, forget it. Marco and Celia are about as tepid as can be and still supposedly be in love. And, how about that rivalry between them, set up by their evil fathers? Neither one has an ouce of competitiveness in their bones. Instead they collaborate with each other. so what should have been a major source of tension lies there as a deflated balloon. Nor are they convincing as lovers. Even when they say "I love you," it's about as exciting as when you pat your dog's head to show him you love him. Come to think of it, patting my dogs uses more deeply felt emotion than any that Celia and Marco ever managed. There is no sense of longing, of desire, or, can I say it? Wanting to f***. Nor is there a climax (excuse the pun) in which the resolution of the rivalry is created or the love turns into fireworka. Instead there is an insipid deus ex machina involving a nice unmagical kid named Bailey (ha! Barnum and Bailey?) Couldn't he just have been named John?
Another problem with the book is tedium. It took almost 400 pages to tell a story that could have been told in maybe 250 pages at the most. As Bird Brian (or Brian Bird, sorry! I love you, but names elude me in my senility) complained, the unnecessary details of what everyone was wearing or what every room was like made me feel as if I was slogging through trivia. And I like color. I like fashion. I like interesting room decor. But I got impatient with all of these here. It was so overdone. Intricacy beyond purpose.
Finally,as noted above,the love affair between Marco and Celia was positively insipid. They didn't have enough real life angst between them to be deterred by love. Perhaps if they were deterred by love, it would have ended with a bang. As it it is, it ended with a whimper.
Oh, as a reader's advisor I would recommend this book to someone who just wants to while away the day. From the sales ranking, lot of people loved this book