Book Review: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

Book Review: The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, is a difficult book to describe. At least, I find it so, even if other reviewers have not seemed to have any problem characterizing it. Furthermore, the book seems to have polarized reviewers and, I would presume by extension, readers as well. Let me, therefore, state where I come down on it up front: I really enjoyed it, even though I did find it occasionally unfocused and digressive.

So, what is The Night Circus? Well, it’s part fantasy, part romance, part mystery, and a curious mix of adult, and young adult fiction. The story’s main protagonists are two individuals innocently bound into competition with one another, one by his guardian and one by her father, in early childhood. The venue for their competition becomes a circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, but one unlike any conventional circus. The competitors are at the outset unaware of each other’s identity, and the circus, beyond some of its basic physical characteristics, is mostly created, energized, and sustained through the magical abilities of the two competitors. The circus only opens at night, and its movements from venue to venue are not published or advertised. Only certain followers, self-described rêveurs, receive enough information to follow it wherever it goes; the remainder of the public is simply surprised by any local appearance.

To describe specifics of the multifaceted plot would be to spoil much of the fun that’s to be had as the reader becomes progressively more deeply involved in what develops into a complex set of events with many interacting characters.

From the outset, the writing takes on a somewhat mysterious, almost Gothic tone which inconsistently appears throughout the book. Somewhere about three quarters of the way through, the writing takes an unexpectedly and unabashedly romantic turn which I found a bit jarring but, in reality, not altogether inappropriate to the overall tone of the tale. The specific scene in which this occurs never sinks to the level of bodice ripper, but little is left to the imagination during the brief and isolated episode.

Toward the end, I found a chapter or two to be somewhat digressive from the slowly developed but ultimately linear stream of the tale, and it seemed as if perhaps Ms. Morgenstern felt that the story needed some additional padding, although it’s unclear why she should have felt so given the 400 page length of the book and extreme detail in the book’s every scene and set piece.

As an absorbing, escapist read, The Night Circus certainly fills the bill despite its few shortcomings and, as I noted, one or two editing misses. You may find, as did I, that you wonder why you can’t seem to put it down even as you question why you’re spending the time to read it in the first place.

Bottom Line: Worthy escapist fare.

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