The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern (2011)

1 Nov

The hype around The Night Circus has been crazy…I rarely pay enough attention to new books to know about them until they’ve been bestsellers for a long while.  Erin Morgenstern managed to get hooked up with Starbucks, giving away a download of the first 100 pages of the book, and news of this novel spread like wildfire.

The Night Circus shares a competition between two magicians, for which they have trained their whole lives, and the circus provides a mysterious forum for them to display their talents.

The Night Circus is full of imaginative fun…I’ve heard it compared to Harry Potter a number of times, but Harry Potter is the go-to comparison for any kind of fantasy/magical novel now.  It’s an awful comparison for The Night Circus, because besides magic, this book isn’t anything like Harry Potter.  It’s an awkward comparison.

The Night Circus’ magic, and Morgenstern’s skill, lie in description.  The circus is there for exploring.  All the major points in the story could be covered in about 20 pages, the remainder of the book is lavish descriptions of magical performances, beautiful clothing, and all sorts of fantastical sights.  It’s escapism, and it’s wonderful.

Laura Miller at did a thoughtful review in which she described The Night Circus as an “etsy novel”– it’s clever, hand made with lots of effort and care, and even has a few lumpy spots and frayed edges.  I couldn’t agree more.  Morgenstern has obvious mastery of imagination and description, but the plot is simplistic and left me wanting.  I spent most of the novel wanting to learn more about the rules and logistics of the game between the two young magicians, but when she finally comes around to providing an explanation, it’s a mere recitation of basic rules I had figured out well before on my own.

Morgenstern, showing off her festive side.

The Night Circus is not well-suited for a sequel, but I do hope that Morgenstern comes out with a sophomore novel.  She has talent, and even if she does not develop more complicated plots over time, her imaginative descriptions and mastery of wonder will make for more fun works.  I don’t know if the book necessarily was worth the immense hype, but it was worth my time and attention, so that’s an all-around win.


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