I’m going to add my voice to the multitude of voices out there singing the praises of Erin Morgenstern for her brilliant debut, The Night Circus. I will however be singing descant and slightly off key, sometimes I will not even be singing the same song.
Let’s take a look at the story of The Night Circus:
In 1886 a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Reves delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. There are contortionists, performing cats, carousels and illusionists – all the trappings of an ordinary circus. But this is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the reveurs – the dreamers. And who is the sinister man in the grey suit who watches over it all? Behind the scenes a dangerous game is being played out by two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who, at the behest of their masters, are forced to test the very limits of the imagination – and of love.
Now right off the bat I had an issue with the book. I give a book 50 pages to grab and hold my attention. That is all. If it fails to do so, the book goes back onto the “unread” pile where it fades away into obscurity. The book made it there once, and was only saved by the insistence of a colleague.
The reason for this was the author’s insistence, and in my opinion, mistake, to keep the people involved as nearly nameless spectres, nothing more than faces with dialogue. For the first 80 odd pages these non-entities laid the groundwork for the rest of the story. I was bored to tears. It was at this point where I threw the book back onto the “unread” pile, refusing to waste my time any longer. I was reluctantly convnced by a colleague to give the book another go because “it gets better”…
By page 80 the book had me intrigued. Finally after 80 pages of twaddle the background details were starting to form into something that resembled a plot line and the book drew me in.
This is where Morgenstern really started to shine. In creating the setting of the Circus she drew on her biggest talent, world building. Her prose brings the Night Circus to life, and more than once I felt myself wanting to turn the page just to get more of a feel for it. In the end, it is this that saves the novel from being just another badly executed good idea.
Now on to the major issues. The plotline was thin and linear, lacking the subtle nuances that the milieu suggests it should have. The characters themselves were not properly explored, and like the Circus’ next destination, they always feel vague and unexplored. At times I felt the characters had little more depth than my shower.
Morgenstern could have made this book a hundred pages longer, with a more in-depth exploration of the characters, and I would have rated it the best book I have read this year. For now, that honour still lies with The Absolutist.
In the end, The Night Circus is a book where the setting and atmosphere is supported by the characters and the plotline, turning the idea of the traditional novel on its head.