556 of 704 people found the following review helpful
on October 3, 2011
I feel like Erin Morgenstern kind of missed her calling. She'd make a fabulous art director. The circus she has imagined is going to look stunning on film. Let's just hope some gifted director will figure out how to bring life to her cardboard-like characters and tensionless plot.
Granted, some readers are going to love her descriptions of the fantastical scenarios of said nocturnal circus. And if Morgenstern had either a good story or a talent for writing, she'd be solidly in 3- or 4-star territory with me. But she has neither of those things.
First off: There is precious little in the way of story here, whether character-driven, plot-driven, or idea-driven. There is just nothing to these characters, likeable or unlikable. And the (alleged) plot! Those marketing blurbs that reference "a fierce competition," "a game in which only one can be left standing," and "the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will"--those are UNCONSCIONABLE LIES! Here's my proof: On a page that Kindle tells me is 54% of the way through the book, the central protagonists essentially agree that they have no conflict with one another: "Knowing that [Celia] thinks of the circus as an exhibition comes as a pleasant surprise, as [Marco] had stopped considering it antagonistic years ago." I find this pretty insulting to the reader. You tell me there's really no conflict between two people who are supposed to be locked in a magical battle? And there hasn't been conflict for years? And the revelation itself is no more than a pleasant surprise?
Oh, and that part about "only one can be left standing"? See, apparently the "duel" ends when one of the "combatants" dies. Which sounds exciting, except that they never actually battle. I might just as well claim that I, Amy Geneva, am locked in a magical duel with...I don't know, David Bowie. A duel that will end when one of us dies. And that claim will be every bit as true, AND just as meaningless, as the supposed battle described (endlessly, and tediously) in this book.
Onward to my other major complaint, which is the astonishingly clunky writing. Gah! Yes, I said Gah! OK, so this is a first novel, and she's a young writer...still, I KNOW Doubleday had the budget for an editor, even after Morgenstern got her massive advance...and, in all seriousness, this is some brutally bad writing. No originality of usage, no fresh metaphors. If you're going to pack your book with flowery description, it should contribute to the plot, characterization, or themes. And the language itself ought to be beautiful. See, it's not enough to describe things as being sumptuous, intricate, and lovely if your prose is just...gross.
Let's do a quick comparison of Junk Writing that Thinks It's Lovely and Lyrical (Sample A), vs. Junk Writing that Knows It's Junk and Is Therefore Funny (Sample B):
"She turns her head, Bailey catches her eye, and she smiles at him. Not in the way that one smiles at a random member of the audience when one is in the middle of performing circus tricks with unusually talented kittens but in the way that one smiles when one recognizes someone they have not seen in some time."
--Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus
"He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it."
--Attributed to Joseph Romm, winner of some kind of bad simile contest. (Or so sayeth the Interweb.)
Do you see what I'm getting at here?
I can overlook the occasional clumsy construction. It happens. But I found Morgenstern's prose almost nauseating, because I was constantly rewriting her sentences in my head while reading. How about some more examples, so you can share my pain? Let's examine the phrase "round spheres that resemble birdcages." Cue gag reflex! Sorry, I wasn't aware that square spheres existed. Why not write "round cages"? Even "spherical cages" would be acceptable.
Then there's "Normal chairs with legs and backs act as trapezes." Um...in my world, normal chairs HAVE legs and backs. That said, exactly how are these normal chairs ACTING AS TRAPEZES? Has Morgenstern ever seen a trapeze? In my experience, they bear little resemblance to chairs. Now, this is a work of fantasy, and I am eager to believe in chairs that can act as trapezes. All I'm asking for is a little more detail. Unfortunately, those nine words are a paragraph unto themselves. There is absolutely no explanation of this hard-to-visualize occurrence. Disappointing.
Here's another: "There is a considerable crowd outside when Herr Thiessen finally reaches the gates, and despite the crowd, he would have spotted his clock instantly, even without being informed of its placement." I hope you understand why I feel this merits a "Gah!" because, frankly, I find it exhausting to untangle the mess of verb tense shift, spatial discontinuity, passive voice, and sheer wordiness plaguing this sentence.
Here's a fun activity if you happen to be using an e-reader to slog through this book. Do a search on the phrase "for some time." The list is both long and hilarious. With irritating vagueness, Morgenstern repeatedly forces her characters to stand in one place "for some time," stare at one another "for some time," or just sit silently "for some time." Perhaps my standards are too high, but I like a book to contain some ideas or some action, if not both. In The Night Circus, a shocking number of sentences are being wasted on uninteresting non-action that lasts for indefinable periods of time. It's excruciatingly boring.
So yeah. In the absence of compelling characters or a gripping plot, I found I was reading on just to see what egregious literary howler Morgenstern would commit next.
I leave you with this revolting pile of words: "After dinner, the conversation continues over coffee and brandy in the parlor, until an hour most of the guests deem extremely late but Tsukiko points out that it is comparatively early for the circus girls." (And yes, I typed that exactly as printed.) Kindly consider that this sentence got past an editor (who, I hope, read the manuscript more than once), AND a proofreader, AND a copy editor.
And therein lies the true fantasy of this novel.
44 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2011
The great irony of this book is that I was skipping the supposed best parts - the fabulous visuals - because they're tangled up with flat characters, a plot that is random and illogical, and a complete lack of emotion. This book should have been a novella.
Here is what I got:
1. Fabulous tricks and lush settings that are mere ornaments to a haphazard plot. I missed the "ship of books" until I saw it excerpted in a review - I was skimming that whole scene. Many of the tricks are silly, like fixing broken teacups or changing the color of a dress. Half of them could be cut.
2. A plot that is carried not by actual drama but by dull or puzzling conversations and random events. All you really see happening is 1) people doing tricks, and 2) people talking in smoky cafes or at lavish dinner parties or at the circus as they wander around munching popcorn and chocolate mice. The savior, Bailey, almost literally falls into his life's task instead of being driven into it by some personal, inner fire. Everything is nearly lost at one point because he misses a train. This is known in movie parlance as "a sagging second act" and "too many coincidences."
3. Too many expository conversations. "How did she know?" "She has the power of seeing the past." "I control X, and he controls Y." (This is known in movie parlance as "telling, not showing.")
4. Many plot developments are conveniently foretold or hinted at by psychics or tarot card readers for no apparent reason. You could cut ALL these teases and subplots without losing anything.
5. Half the conversations are bizarre and coy, full of "That I cannot say" or "You will know when it is time" type remarks with no explanation EVER as to why the character could not say or why the right "time" was 1901, not 1899. Other conversations are irritating small talk. "Would you like some wine?" "Yes please." "Please come in." "Thank you." "This room is fascinating." "Yes, it is my favorite. What is your favorite?" "My favorite is the garden." SKIMMM.
6. The central plot device is a grand competition with vaguely mortal stakes - but I had little interest in its outcome. The two master manipulators behind the competition rarely appear in the story, and then only to utter brief, blunt, mysterious directives. The author provides no idea until near the end of the book WHY they're staging this competition, and when she does, it is ridiculously trivial!
7. I kept getting deja-vu from Twilight (all these super-powered, slow-aging eccentrics in their own little world).
8. Those who haven't read Gabriel Garcia-Marquez will probably think the ending is soooooooooo ingenious and original. Sorry, no.
The film, incidentally, will be fabulous, because it will fix a lot of this stuff. The plotting will be tight, the major events will be transferred from dull exposition to action, and the actors will be lively and passionate instead of detached and semi-human. Oh, to be sure, Tsukiko will be the stereotypical Inscrutable Asian and a few more pointless enigmas will be preserved, but when we first see the grown-up Marco it will be in slo-mo with cool background music.
The film will also be fabulous because of the book's strengths. The production designer and art director will get the gig of a lifetime, and the FX will be magnificent.
79 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2011
"The Night Circus" will be a 5-star book for a certain reader. This reader likes a lot of descriptions, doesn't mind a very slow story and has a soft spot for circuses. I am not that reader. I prefer imagery to complement a plot rather than substitute it.
The plot summary of "The Night Circus" promises many enticing things, but delivers, in my opinion, only on one - lush imagery of a mysterious circus that is a collaborative creation of two rivaling magicians. The book is good 80% description of various circus tents, performances, dinners and pretty, visual acts of magic. I enjoyed it for the first 40 pages or so, but then it got tiring and felt indulgent on the author's part.
The remaining 20% are dedicated to: a battle between the two magicians that consists of... making up pretty things to impress each other (yes, you read that right, no actual combating of any sorts in this "fierce competition") and a lukewarm romance that comes out of the magicians' fascination with each other's creations from a distance, rather than interacting and spending time together.
My resulting disappointment with the novel has also a lot to do with the writing style - Morgenstern chose to write in present tense, 3rd person. It works well for describing imagery, but makes the narrative very distant, detached. We never get to truly know the characters, never feel any excitement.
To be honest, I am not sure if "The Night Circus" can even make a decent movie (the rights were bought by Summit). There is not much drama here or action, the story is anti-climactic, the love is dull and the magic is only vaguely defined and seems to have no rules and limitations.
I am thoroughly puzzled by the book's comparisons to Harry Potter.
95 of 119 people found the following review helpful
I was really excited to read this book, but it just didn't do it for me. I will not rehash the plot setting, as many have already done so, I will simply state what I liked/disliked about this book.
While the storyline is original, it is also very convoluted and nonsensical. I will say that I liked the second half of the book more than the first half, because there was more interesting character interactions in the second half, and the romance finally took off the ground, so to speak. Our two main characters Marco and Celia don't really interact with each other, until the second half of the book. But I did like the dreams that Marco would show Celia (like a boat made of books and floating on ink, etc).
The book was also slow and it drags at some parts. And because there are many characters, none of them really gets a chance to be really fleshed out, they're all vague just like the premise of the story. So in the end the reader doesn't really feel attached to any of them, and this makes the characters forgettable, and the story a less engaging read.
Edited to add "spoiler alert":
Also by the end of the book, the reader still doesn't understand why the challenges are held, and what purpose does the moving circus serve? and why is Bailey the only one who can keep the circus going (after Celia passes that burden on to him) and for what purpose? Basically this book had a convoluted premise of a moving circus and a magic challenge that goes on for years and years (where the competitors themselves don't understand the purpose of the game or it's rules), and by the end of the book, the reader is no closer to understanding anything about this nonsensical storyline.
So in the end, while this had some beautiful magic scenes, I felt that overall this book was style over substance.
31 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2011
I didn't have many hopes for this novel after seeing it compared to Twilight; that may be why I was pleasantly surprised to see that the writing consisted of words greater than two syllables, no glaring grammar errors, no overusage of the Word 2000 synonym tool, and no exhaustingly repetitive words (chagrin, anyone?).
However, though this book is written in a rich and captivating prose, it lacks solid ground. Harry Potter this certainly is not. The main characters are flat and I couldn't quite grasp their reasoning for falling so in love with each other. The love just didn't seem real. The plot was a bit empty, since the characters were mainly weak and 2-dimensional (save for the Twins and maybe Bailey). I enjoyed the imagery of the novel, which is why I didn't give it two stars, but if you are looking for the next Harry Potter, keep looking. There were also a lot of gaps in the story, questions that were never answered, and mysteries that weren't explained.
I won't continue to go on about the plot or characters, as I think most of the 1-3 star reviewers captured my own sentiments exactly. My second biggest complaint (following weak characters) is the tense the author chose to write in. The majority of the novel is written in third person present, that alone would be annoying and completely disconnects the reader from the characters...but in addition, she uses second person present inserts throughout the novel, which was just irritating!
I'd recommend this book to people who enjoyed The Historian and The Thirteenth Tale, and would probably read this author's next novel. But the pushing of this debut novel is another sneaky move by publishers who are just too anxious to find the next "big book."
44 of 54 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the most anticipated books of the year- its author received a pretty massive advance from Doubleday and the rights to the movie adaptation have already been purchased by the makers of Twilight (EEK). I generally am wary of hype and am nearly always wary of novels about the circus. But the cover on this one was too great to resist!
The Night Circus is about two magicians, Celia and Marco, who are in magical competition with each other a la The Prestige. But they are not entirely in control of the game, and each move they make impacts many, many people. What starts as a competition soon becomes almost a series of magical love letters before things take a dangerous turn when lives start becoming disrupted.
I can see why the movie rights to this book were snatched up so quickly- it is a very visual book and I can see people biting at the chomp to see the actual night circus, full of wonders and marvels, brought to life (probably in IMAX 3-D). But while the descriptions of the circus were beautiful, and the secondary characters fascinating, I just didn't get much emotion at all from the two main characters, Celia and Marco. They are supposed to be madly in love with each other, so much so that the earth seems to tremble every time they touch. But through the whole story, I didn't feel as though I really KNEW them. For example, Celia is a quiet and sad child, but somehow grows up to be witty and confident, making suggestive jokes at dinner parties and delighting everyone. Marco is a lonely child who becomes a charming young adult, but when he becomes interested in Celia, he just seems a little TOO intense for it to be real for me. When did these evolutions happen? With such stunning visual descriptions of everything else in this book, I felt like the main characters should have been fleshed out more and then maybe their love story would have taken on more meaning for me.
But even though the main characters didn't do the heavy lifting this story required, in my opinion, the side characters (particularly the clockmaker and Chandresh) were excellent and so wonderfully portrayed. When combined with the beautiful and riveting descriptions of the night circus itself, they really carry the story and kept me interested and engaged the whole way through.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2011
When I first read all the glowing reviews for this book and then its synopsis, I was instantly hooked...on the idea of the book. The reality however, fell flat. I know that having too great expectations for something can ruin it but with all this hype around a new author and story, how could you not get a little excited to read it?
Let me start by saying that some of my favorite books are fantasy: Harry Potter, 100 Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Time Traveler's Wife, The Hunger Games. I love a good story that sweeps you up and carries you away into a world you could only ever dream of. I love to get lost in the idea of fantasy and magic. This book is written in my favorite style, magical realism, and in that area it truly lives up to the hype. A maze made out of floating boards and clouds, a room filled with jars made of all different scents meant to transport you into your memories...a ship made of paper and books floating on an ink sea. It all sounds so dreamy and magical, and those moments were the ones i enjoyed the best.
The real issue of this book for me was the flatness of the characters, mainly Celia and Marco, who fall in love...half way through the book! The fact that the book is pitched as this tragic love story (which it is) is a little misleading as the romance aspect doesn't come in until well over 100 pages. I had a hard time identifying with Celia and Marco who, one minute don't know each other and then next are madly in love. Their courting is bizzar and short and not heavily romantic (unless you count the settings they take place in. The love story just feels...fake. I hate to bash a book at all, but I was pretty disappointed in this. I felt that the story had SUCH a great potential and yet fell short from it every time I was expecting something more.
For all the visual imagery, there is little drama or conflict unless you count the 'rules' of the challenge which are never clearly defined. Yes, Marco and Celia are in some sort of magical competition with each other but you'd think with magic having no limits, there would be more action and there was very little. I found myself skimming through pages (something I HATE doing) just to get a scene over with. There were lots of instances of boring dialogue and too many open ends that never get resolved. The rest of the circus characters were just okay. I enjoyed Poppet and Widget the most, finding their 'powers' the most entertaining of anyone involved in the circus. Surprisingly enough, I also enjoyed the charter of Isobel whom I though the author could have done more of.
This story comes from a great idea, which is apparent, but it just doesn't live up to it. I wish the back stories were more detailed and informative and i wish the characters had more life to them. *SPOILER* The idea that Celia gets to travel with the circus and Marco has to stay in London at all times...why? The author never really tells us and the story would have been MUCH more interesting if Marco and Celia were given more chance to interact. The fact that they have very few interactions was disappointing. I wasn't expecting a grand love story, just something that met up with the book's description.
Overall, the book is well-written and highly imaginative, which is what allowed me to finish it. But when it was over, i just felt frustrated that it was so heavy with imagery that it did not focus on the plot or the characters as well is it should have.
This is a decent book but certainly not (in my opinion) great. It seems to be a book that is highly debatable in terms of opinion. Because of that, If you really want to read it, I absolutely think you should. We all have different tastes. I hope this review was helpful!
37 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2013
I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters and didn't really care who won the game with no beginning, no rules and no end. The plot was so flimsy as to be nearly non existent. The author showed lots of imagination in creating the various tents in the circus but I couldn't figure out what relevance they had to either the book or life.
Why was this book it written? It will certainly have no impact on my life.
I should reveal that I was the only one of eight people in my book club who did not like it. They were fascinated by the imagination and creativity revealed by the circus and the weird plot line.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2013
Erin Morgenstern paints a picture in black that is so vivid and strong that I can’t but pray to see it developed on the big screen while at the same time worrying that it will never ever manage to live up to the beauty that is The Night Circus. Amazingly complex…this novel spans multiple POVs and multiple time frames to tell the story of Marco, Celia, and the Circus (which is so much more than a setting…it literally takes on a life of it’s own.) I loved the myriad of circus folk and hangers-on that we came to know and appreciate as well as this timeless love story.
The Night Circus itself though wins the show here. Take a step through those gates, lose track of time and of yourself…smell the sweets and popcorn, hear the barkers call and let the magic wash over you….
NOTE: Review copy rcvd in exchange for an honest review
32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
The Night Circus is a wonderful, wonderful debut novel by Erin Morgenstern. Rich and deeply satisfying, Morgenstern's mesmerizing prose sets your visual imagination to work and evokes classic mythology, mysticism and storytelling. It will surely make an imprint on your heart and keep you pondering long, long after you have finished it.
The story of THE NIGHT CIRCUS is sensual, intimate and full of detail; an intelligent and cabalistic tale of wizardry and enchantment, charms and spells, dreams and visions, fortune tellers and Tarot cards, magicians and illusionists, a circus world and a dream world ~ a romantic and compelling, allegorical myth for adults. I haven't enjoyed a novel of this sort with so much excitement and riveting absorption since my younger years when I was completely captivated by Mary Stewart's alchemistic Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy or Michael Ende's allegorical Momo and The Neverending Story[Paperback,1996].
There is so much to be said for this clever and complex novel, I hardly know where to begin. I hesitate to provide a plot summary because to do so will undoubtedly spoil the plot's mystical spell. I will say how very much I enjoyed the extraordinary reading experience of THE NIGHT CIRCUS and how marvelous it was to be given so much space by the author to interpret and analyze the beautiful symbolism and smart metaphors which are so abundant in her masterful writing.
THE NIGHT CIRCUS is set at the turn of the 19th century when a "circus arrives without warning," a circus of dreams which opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. The circus is a marvelous motif or a metaphor for the livelihood of spirit. "The whole of Le Cirque des Reves is formed by a series of circles...Rather than a single tent with rings enclosed within, this circus contains clusters of tents like pyramids, some large and others quite small. They are set within circular paths, contained within a circular fence. Looping and continuous."
The characters are all fantastic participants in an challenging game or an intriguing cosmic play and the circus is its venue, its game board. The primary characters or players are the mysterious master magicians, Prospero and Alexander, and their young students, Celia and Marco. It is written in the stars that Celia and Marco are destined to become lovers and indeed a beautiful erotic reading experience thus emerges. They are a mythical couple, not unlike Tristan and Isolde, with a deeply mystical and precious romantic involvement with each other.
An entire cast of richly developed characters also comes into play, like pieces of a great puzzle, all participating in the circus as storytellers and magical performers, or as backers and engineers of the circus, or as "reveurs," the dedicated circus enthusiasts who "lead strange lives, chasing our dreams from place to place," following the circus everywhere it mysteriously appears.
THE NIGHT CIRCUS harkens back to classic mythology and mysticism and its relation to human psychology. The concept of dream in this story is very strong and it seems to suggest almost a Jungian method of dream interpretation, one heavily reliant on symbolic interpretation. The reader can have so much fun with this! I sensed the strong influence of the ancient spiritual teachings, such as the Law of Karma, The Tree of Life, immortality, impermanence, duality, pairs of opposites (being and non-being, male and female, yin and yang, right and wrong, good and evil, black and white) and all of this this appealed to me keenly because of the deep humanity and even deeper insight into the secrets of psychology and human emotional response.
The power of myth and storytelling is a theme throughout THE NIGHT CIRCUS and the role of storyteller also serves as another mentor, providing a mental road map for finding one's way in the labyrinth of a complex world. In fact, the labyrinth is another recurring motif in the circus.
The character who might be considered the story's primary hero is a young man named Bailey, (a character who reminded me often of the legendary Arthur) and as he approaches adulthood, he encounters all the psychological challenges of his coming of age. Should he go away to Harvard, or should he stay and help on the farm, or should he follow his dream and run away to join the circus? The "story" and its storyteller, a circus character named Widget, actually serve as guides to Bailey, leading him on a successful passage through the labyrinth, through the stages of his life, on his "hero's journey." It's beautiful and it's profound. And for the story to continue to fulfill its vital function in Bailey`s life, the story must continually transform and evolve with the passage of time and the ever changing cosmology of time. Bailey's life, just like our lives, must continually move in the circular pattern, on the "Wheel of Life," ending where it begins, and beginning where it ends, perpetually.
Like rabbits out of a hat, the more I ponder on THE NIGHT CIRCUS, the more I pull from it! Morgenstern's narrative is so prophetic, the reader is reminded of a vital and fundamental universal truth of life ~ "You cannot stop things...You can only be prepared for them to happen."
The Night Circus is a dazzling display of the artistry, the imagination and the intelligence of Erin Morgenstern. I can hardly believe this is her debut novel! It is such an extraordinary, flawless achievement! It ultimately speaks of humanity's search for the same basic, unknown force from which everything came and into which everything will return.
I wish I could shower this very worthy novel with many, many more stars!