Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Marian Librarian Reviews Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I have declared it Circus Week!

Why?  Because it is National Novel Writing Month and two of the biggest NaNo success stories happen to be about Circuses: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  (Take note, Nano'ers.  Circus books for all of us next year!)*

(*Don't actually do this.)

I'm going to be honest, every time I approach an "adult book" these days, especially a "bestseller," I feel trepidation.  I think it's because I've had some truly awful experiences with adult fiction and bestsellers (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Devil Wears Prada stand out for me.)  So, when I went into the Youth Services field I engrossed myself in YA and Juvenile literature, feeling like I was behind and could never read enough of it anyway (I still feel this way.)  My whole outlook on reading changed then.  I was actually enjoying things I read.  I'd found a home in YA lit.

A few months ago, I started to hear about The Night Circus.  First, I heard of it because it was a NaNo success story even before it was released, and as a NaNo'er I appreciate every one of us who take 50,000 desperately typed-out words and turn them into something amazing.

Then I started to hear about it from the YA community because it was going to be placed in YA sections, then graduated to adult but branded "has crossover appeal."

Interesting that this book seemed to beckon out to me just like the Night Circus itself does, with word of mouth and an image of circus tents in striking black and white.  I got on the hold list for it and was already number 257 in line at the library, but I cut ahead of everyone by spying a non-requestable Best-Seller copy on the shelf.

The Night Circus gave me everything I want to fall in love with in a book.  A beautiful setting and atmosphere, lovers who make your heart ache with them, mystery and intrigue that keeps you turning page after page, and, of course, a little magic.

It was a book that I devoured and wished I hadn't so that I could have savored it longer.  It's a world that I did not wish to shut the back cover on.

The story follows the life of the mysterious and fantastic Night Circus and the lives that are entwined in it.  I say the life of the circus, because it's the true main character that seems to live and breathe on its own, rather than just a setting.  The magic and splendor in this Circus isn't just sleight of hand, it's real.  Dreams conjured by dreamers for dreamers; two magicians locked in a high-stakes game.  A lot of fantasy demands a limit or price to magic.  These magicians do pay a price for their magic but anything they wish to make happen- living carousels, cloud-filled playgrounds, exotic labyrinths -they bring to life.  I understand "price of magic" philosophy but here, it was refreshing to see that any dream could take shape.

I know this review has been more like a love letter to this book, so I'll get down to the nitty-gritty briefly.  The narrative moves forward and backward in time from scene to scene, picking up threads of different characters at different parts of their lives.  This causes a build in tension but does, at one very brief point, added frustration because there were times where it cut to characters I didn't find as compelling when I desperately wanted to follow another storyline.  Sometimes I find books that use this frame tiresome because they use it as a thinly veiled device to hold off the climax.  However, this book was certainly not the worse offender.  One other gripe is a main character, Bailey, is meant to be an ordinary kid in an extrordinary world, but I think that point was driven too far because I never connected to him.

These are minor problems in any book, but are especially forgettable in such a fast read.  I have heard some complain about the lengthy descriptions in this book, but I frankly don't know what they're talking about.  The descriptions are brush strokes, touches that help you fill in the rest with your imagination.  The movie rights have already been sold and I know people are already a twitter about it.  I almost not, because I love the world Morgenstern helped me to see in my own imagination.

A big part of growing up is seeing through magic, realizing that magicians are just fancy liars with pulleys and mirrors.  The ciricus loses its luster, becomes a lie and illusion.  This jaded adult reader was glad to step into a world where the magic is as real and shiny as ever.


  1. very lovely review- so wonderful to have a book that transports you that way! sounds like a gorgeous book.

  2. I'm definitely adding this book to my To Read list. From your description it seems as though it is written in a very visual way and should make an interesting film. I would not be surprised to find that in the film, the ordinary kid becomes more likable.

  3. @bookspersonally Thank you! As some one who is often disappointed by adult literature I found it gorgeous and engaging

    @robyn It is written very visually. She has a style of short paragraphs loaded with bites of description, a style I relate with. I think the movie in the right hands will be beautiful. I think the Twilight folks have it...
    Also, you're right, movies have a bit of magic with making tertiary characters likable faster.

  4. I don't feel so bad now. I generally don't enjoy best sellers/adult books and gravitate to YA and that sometimes makes me feel like a slacker librarian. At least now I know I'm not the only one who reads primarily YA. :)


  5. @R Luckily I have the excuse of "I'm reading this for work, but really I'd been disappointed by adult lit time and again enough to defect to YA. It's also why, whenever I do read adult fiction, it' almost always genre fic. I feel literary fiction sucking out my soul every time I try it.

    Thanks for reading. You are not a slacker librarian, life is too short to read bad books!