Book Review: The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: Fantasy,
Published: 2011, by DoubleDay

Since I’m moving through my reading list of books in order to better understand what’s out there and prep for my own book publishing journey, I’ve decided to (try and) approach my book reviews as a writer rather than a passive reader.

What I liked/ will be drawing inspiration from:  The Night Circus is a steady barrage of sights, with the other senses sprinkled in for good measure. Exploring the other, non-sight senses in my writing is something that I’ve been trying to work on so it was nice to read a book where all the senses were such a critical part of the reading experience.

The idea behind the circus was interesting: a mysterious, enchanted, captivating place inherently tied to a “duel” between the two main characters, Celia and Marco. I enjoyed watching the circus evolve as the characters’ relationship(s) did. Much of the imagery in the story is tied to the circus and the various tents that house its wonders.

The writing was also very stylized, in a way that I enjoyed. Often when I read stories, I find words or sentences that are a little off in my mind and I end up trying to think of how I might rephrase it. Not that the original sentence was bad or anything, I just would’ve written it differently. That didn’t really happen with The Night Circus. It’s narrative voice strong and appealing (to me at least).

What I might’ve written differently: So much focus was on exploring the circus that there wasn’t much room in the narrative for exploring the characters and at time the relationships left me wanting more. For the most part, relationships between the characters kind of just were. Take it or leave it. When I finished the book, I remembered my 10th grade English teacher explaining that most fiction was either plot-driven or character-driven. The Night Circus felt plot/sensation-driven. I do wish there had been more time for developing the characters, but of course, you can’t always squeeze everything you want into the story. If more details about the characters had been included, something else would’ve gotten the ax.

Also, this is more in how the story was sold, but I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the pacing. The Night Circus is kind of described as having this harrowing duel between Celia and Marco and while that’s central to the plot… the story does not advance at the speed of fight. The pacing is actually pretty slow at times, which was fine for me. I just sat back and enjoyed the descriptive ride. But I can see how people would get frustrated that there was no real mystery or duel to be had among the pages of the circus.

As a final critique, I don’t quite know how I feel about the circus itself. Without giving to much away, I was fascinated by the psychology of the circus and how it got into people’s heads (go figure, I am a psych grad student…). For the most part, the book frames this as a good thing, although the darker side of being sucked into the magic of the circus is explored. I think I would have explored that darkness more. By the end of the story, I was firmly in the camp of the circus would be nice to visit but I would not want to stay.

Ultimately, I give The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 4 out of 5 stars. What’s a star worth? Oh about 50 thousand Schrute bucks.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Night Circus

  1. I loved (loved, loved) this book, but, judging from some angry GoodReads comments, I do not think it was “advertised” well. Too many people seemed to be expecting either a cross between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter or actual, straight out historic fiction.

    For me, I felt like I mostly got to know Celia and Marco through their creations, so I wound including the descriptions under the characterization tab.

    1. Yeah, I definitely got the sense that people expected this to be some kind of Hunger Games style battle, which of course it wasn’t.

      Also, that’s a good point about the creations characterizing Celia and Marco. Celia in particular was pretty stoic and hard to get a read on. Now I feel like I need to re-read the book to get a better sense of what each of their tents said about them.

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