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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
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's review
Aug 17, 12

Read in August, 2012

It’s rare when a book meets your expectations. The Night Circus didn’t disappoint, nor did it exceed. At the same time, however, it fails to live up to the persistent hype that has fueled my impatience to read it for the last several months.

Morgenstern’s story is akin to a fairy tale. The setting is mysterious, and lushly described: a monochromatic circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, which appears unannounced in one town after another. Open only at night, the circus is filled with breathtaking, magical sights and events that--unbeknownst to the visitors-- have actual magic involved.

The story focuses on Celia and Marco, a pair of talented young magicians whose instructors have pitted them against each other in a challenge. Though neither of them knows the true nature of the game, or its stakes, the circus is the venue in which they compete, alternating creations and illusions that leave visitors--and one another--breathless. The author’s prose is evocative, yet playful, with many passages tailor-made for reading to small children. There is very little darkness in this story; while the eventual true nature of the game comes to light, this is a love story, a romance in which the author seems to argue that one’s creations are the truest reflection of one’s soul.

Perhaps that’s true, as the amount of attention lavished on my reviews may attest. However, it would have served Morgenstern well to give her characters a bit more depth. Despite a menagerie of colorful characters, it is the circus that takes center stage. While this lends an air of mystery to the supporting cast, it also leaves many of them as faceless enigmas, including some pivotal to the plot. Sparseness doesn’t always result in this; when contrasted with similar novels, such as Genevieve Valentine’s Mechanique, one can’t help but feel as if more could have been done.

Likewise, for all of her ingenuity and imagination, she doesn’t quite invest Celia or Marco with enough of a personality to gain the reader’s loyalty. The slow-moving plot, though it certainly builds suspense, is somewhat laconic. Until the last third of the book, the plot takes its time--and while it’s good not to hurry to resolution; it is not good, however, to have a narrative so passive that little seems to actually happen.

If I could, I'd give this 3.5 stars. This is an excellent debut novel, and clearly Morgenstern has a clear sense of her own voice, even if the measured plot sometimes works against her. She has a true talent for imagery, and it’s seductively easy for the reader to feel as if they’re immersed in a dream. As one librarian friend commented, The Night Circus reads like a future Tim Burton movie. If it is, I for one would love to see it.

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Sarah I agree.

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