Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Synopsis courtesy of

In this mesmerizing debut, a competition between two magicians becomes a star-crossed love story.

The circus arrives at night, without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within nocturnal black and white striped tents awaits a unique experience, a feast for the senses, where one can get lost in a maze of clouds, meander through a lush garden made of ice, stand awestruck as a tattooed contortionist folds herself into a small glass box, and gaze in wonderment at an illusionist performing impossible feats of magic.

Welcome to Le Cirque des RĂªves. Beyond the smoke and mirrors, however, a fierce competition is underway--a contest between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood to compete in 'a game,' in which each must use their powers of illusion to best the other. Unbeknownst to them, this game is a duel to the death, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will.

My Review

4 Stars

'Captivating,' 'Enchanting,' 'Magical' and 'A Must Read' are but a few of the words being used to describe Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, The Night Circus.   Released in September to significant advanced buzz, the novel is being touted as the 'it' book of the year in many quarters.   While I am usually leery of widely-hyped novels, The Night Circus seemed a book that would appeal to me.  Unfortunately, the novel failed to live up to my expectations -- although beautifully written, the plot itself was lacking in many areas.  

I'll start with the good -- the writing.  Morgenstern has a magical way with words.  The Night Circus is one of the most beautifully written novels I've had the pleasure of reading.   Morgenstern's descriptions of the circus itself are both vivid and breathtakingly beautiful.  At times I would reread certain passages simply to marvel at the prose.  

While Morgenstern's writing is certainly deserving of high praise, the story itself fails to captivate and I found the plot slow moving and, at times, tedious.   The primary characters are flat and poorly developed, leaving me ambivalent towards them and unconcerned with their fates.   According to the book jacket, Marco and Celia share a 'deep, passionate and magical love,' but I found little evidence of this in the novel -- a grand love story this book was not.   Furthermore, the concept of two 'dueling' magicians fails to live up to expectations, as the competition between Celia and Marco could hardly be called a duel in the traditional sense of the word.

Perhaps my expectations for the novel were just too high, but The Night Circus was not a magical read for me.  Yes, the prose is five-star worthy, and the concept of the novel unique, but the characters and plot ultimately left me unsatisfied.  In arriving at my four-star rating, I struggled in balancing the novel's strengths against its weakness.   My initial rating was three stars, yet I didn't feel this rating reflected how elegantly written the novel is.   Given the strength of the writing, I settled on a four-star rating.