The Night Circus Review


Book: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

I was sent this book by my amazing #otspsecretsister, @OhtheStories. It’s one of her favourite books and the favourite book of my friend and flatmate, Nicola, so I desperately wanted to love it just as much as they both did. Sadly, whilst I definitely wouldn’t say that I hated The Night Circus, I didn’t, it definitely isn’t a new favourite of mine either. I think maybe magical realism is just not for me, given that all of my forays into it so far haven’t gone particularly well, I need hard and fast rules about magic clearly! The best way to describe how I felt about the story, is “all style and little substance”. The writing is beautiful, make no mistake, but it’s all too much, there’s beautiful visuals and gorgeous writing but underneath all that, there wasn’t much of a coherent storyline and the characters didn’t really feel developed enough to fall in love with them. If the point of the story was to fall in love with the circus, then Morgenstern definitely succeeded in that department, but if I was meant to love the characters or understand the plot then that did not happen. If you love flowery, descriptive writing, then you will probably enjoy this book, it’s just not the kind of writing that I enjoy. Here’s a short synopsis of the book:

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 writing was certainly very pretty, but it felt a bit…..much? I don’t know, this is probably my personal preference coming out here, but I don’t really like writing like that? Sure I do like to be able to pick pretty quotes out from the books I read, but I don’t really want to just be reading description and that’s what most of this book was, so I think that probably hindered my enjoyment of it! I loved seeing the circus but I felt like the descriptions didn’t need to be as lengthy and the author could probably have got her point across in a less flowery way. It was almost as if the descriptions were being used as a substitute  for the story proper, because when you look beneath all the descriptions of the circus, there’s very little there.

I got incredibly confused through the first half of the book because the storyline was jumping around in time a heck of a lot. I even confused Celia (one of the main characters) and Isobel (another main character) because of this. It gets easier to follow the further into the book you get, but I felt rather disoriented for most of the first half of the book. The pace was also incredibly slow and didn’t really pick up until the last half of the book. There were bits set in the 20th Century that didn’t fit with the rest of the book until right at the very end and I was just constantly confused as to how the entire thing fit together. It felt more like a series of small vignettes rather than one whole coherent story.

I did like the magic, it was incredible, but I didn’t like that there was no rules as to how it worked, no explanation as to why these people had magic. This is why I much prefer straight fantasy to magical realism, because at least fantasy explains why people have magic, this book was just like “so these people can use magic, just roll with it okay” and I’m like “well no, I don’t want to roll with it actually, I want to know why and how it works damn it!”. I also cannot possibly believe that people thought what Celia and other characters did during the novel was mere illusion. Like, no? Illusionists are good but there are some limits and the characters of this book definitely go past those.

I didn’t really care about any of the characters, because they’re not really fleshed out enough for you to know anything about them. Celia, Marco, Isobel and most of the circus’ cast just fell really flat for me. Aside from their role within the circus, I honestly could not tell you much about the characters of this book. The ones I really loved were the Murray twins, Poppet and Widget (stupid names yes), they actually felt alive and real to me, a splash of colour in the otherwise very bland cast, they were charming and adorable, in fact, most of the background characters felt more “alive” than the main ones. The circus itself is the only character that really seems to leap off the page.

The romance was terrible, Celia and Marco didn’t spend anywhere near enough time together for it to be believable, they kind of see each other a few times and then are like “Right we’re in love” and it was just strange. Plus I hated the way Marco treated Isobel, who I guess was kind of his girlfriend? He just sort of abandons her for Celia even though he barely knows her, because of some “magic bond”. Call me crazy, but I like love interests to know each other before they declare “Yes, I love you”, and these two certainly didn’t, which again likely hindered my enjoyment of the book. If less time had been spent on telling us how beautiful the circus was and more on developing Celia and Marco’s relationship, I might have liked it, but alas it was not meant to be.

The supposedly “epic contest” that the blurb promises? Yup, not there. Celia and Marco literally just create pretty circus tents for each other. That’s it. No tension, no intensity, no stakes. If this had been done better, I might have liked the book more but since the stakes were so low, I was just not invested at all.

It was also overly long I felt, I think if Morgenstern had cut some of the lengthy descriptions of the Circus and focused more intently on the game between Marco and Celia, it could have been cut down to maybe more like 300 pages rather than the close to 500 that we got.

The ending completely confused me, I’m not even entirely sure what happened in the end, I have a vague idea but it wasn’t too well explained and honestly I thought it was pretty terrible what Celia and Marco did, it seemed kind of selfish on their part. It just felt kind of anti-climactic. I didn’t understand what they did resolved the whole circus not being stable thing but I’m guessing that as with the rest of this book, the answer would just be a vague, “it’s magic”.

Overall, I loved the circus, I thought it was a wonderful creation and if it was real, I would definitely go to it myself, but aside from that all of the other aspects of the novel, just fell flat for me. It was beautiful on the surface, but beneath it, there didn’t really seem to be anything there. I can totally understand why some people love this book, with it’s fantastical setting and writing, it just wasn’t for me. I’m sure people who like magical realism will love this book, sadly I am not one of them. I think perhaps this is one situation where a book might work better as a movie, The Night Circus is so visually oriented, that I can imagine it would be amazing on the big screen, it’s just a shame I didn’t find it amazing as a book.

My rating: 3/5

This is my last review of 2016, my next review will be of my first read of 2017 (eek!), A Study In Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro.