February 21, 2012

Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Night Circus has all the elements of a novel I should adore -- an offbeat setting, a difficult romance, eccentric characters, and realistically rendered magical content. So then why was I left cold and mostly bored by this book?

Perhaps it's because the emphasis in the writing was on external details rather than the characters' inner life. The characters, scenery, backgrounds, objects, and fashions were lovingly described, maybe even with too much detail. Certainly, the lists of things that were rendered rapturously got tedious without significant emotional content attached. I think that may be because the stuff was limned in detail from a rather flat narrative voice, without enough significance placed on the detailed objects from strong characters' POV. So I feel like I was left without the attachment necessary to be fully engaged in the story.

It's a decent story -- the idea of two young people being groomed for a magical battle within the setting of a fabulous circus should be deeply engaging to me, especially when the characters fall in love despite their opposition. That should all be fun. But I was left feeling shut out of the emotional frisson of the story because, I think, the characters' personalities weren't strong enough, or their interior worlds were placed secondary to the external descriptions. So when the writing waxes rhapsodic about what should be wondrous magical moments and set-pieces, it just read as dull, like watching a movie in which the amazing special affects seem gratuitous or unbelievable somehow. I wasn't buying the magic, and so being told that what was happening was so wondrous actually became ponderous and bothersome instead.

I kept waiting to be engaged, even transported by a story that had all the elements of a fabulous fantastic novel, but instead it was a sleepy slog nearly the whole way through. For all the writing's rhapsodizing, the magic described lacked imagination and personal connection to its characters, and was often repetitive and maddeningly vague or offhand, and ultimately, I was bored.

View all my reviews

1 comment:

paul Magrs said...

I thought it seemed like something i would love, too. But i loathed it! There was no narrative drive, no momentum. The characters had no life at all! It seemed to be about the book design and the swirly writing. I recommend Angela Carter's 'Nights at the Circus' instead.