As a fairly new book blogger, I sometimes feel as though I’m racing to catch up on current events in the book world. While Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea was released in November 2019, I had only just gotten my hands on a copy of The Night Circus, her debut novel in December 2019. Both books have received overwhelmingly positive reviews, but I wanted to weigh in with my own review of The Night Circus. Better late than never, right?
TRIGGER WARNING: Off page suicide, child abuse, suicide attempt
I normally write my own summary, but we're deep in the holiday season and things are hectic, so I took it directly from Goodreads:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.
True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus performers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.
Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.
The premise was an interesting one, and this story was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Erin Morgenstern found a way to turn a simple circus into something sinister. Her writing brings the story to life through all the senses — sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, and her words are beautifully descriptive. This tale is an enchanting mix of traveling magic within the mundane confines of the non-magic world, among people who suspect nothing more than sleight of hand and parlor tricks. After all, we only see what we want to see.
Initially, I was upset by the callous way that Hector/Prospero and Alexander/A.H— used Celia and Marco as pawns in their game. As I read further, I became even more disturbed as the abusive and neglectful treatment of the children was made clear in the guise of training, while it’s merely a game to the adults.
The writing seemed a bit choppy at times; using short sentences that broke up the flow of the reading, and I noticed right away that the sentences frequently started with a pronoun. Once I realized this, I couldn’t stop noticing this. The chapters were very short, and jumped back and forth between time periods. I found myself flipping back and forth between pages, trying to reorient myself to see what was happening when, since the story occurred in a non-linear fashion, changing not only years but locations as well, many times after just a couple of pages..
This story was character-driven, with elements of the plot peeking through sporadically. I couldn't exactly put my fingers on what was happening until the plot finally made its grand entrance on page 300, with 87 pages remaining in the book. I personally prefer a plot-driven book, but I kept reading far past when I normally would have DNF’d because I had heard so many people saying great things about this book. It’s funny, because on Goodreads, it lists books similar to this one. Of the 9 that I’ve read from that list, I’ve really loved 8 of them.
I can respect this book as an incredible piece of literature, and the author as highly talented, while also being aware that this isn’t my ideal kind of novel. It's kind of like opera; I can respect the talent of the singers, but I don't ever choose to actually listen to it (unless my mother forces me to, which happens more than you'd expect).
I much prefer stories that are much more focused on plot while delving a little more into what motivates the characters. I didn’t feel that I got enough of either the background on the characters or time with the actual plot of this story. I got the distinct impression that I would have found this book to me more gasp-inducing and thrilling if I had been more invested in the characters, but I didn't really feel overly connected to the characters.
When I did finally reach the part of the story that involved the plot, things moved very quickly and it just seemed to rush through it. For me, it felt like the pacing dragged for so much of the story, then sped up until I was done with the book. I’m glad that I read it, but I probably won’t be reading more of her work. Not because it isn’t good (because it is very good), but because it’s just not a good fit for me personally.
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn't an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 2
Overall Rating: 3