Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Page Count/Review Word Count: 506
This is going to be a difficult review for me to write because there was a lot I liked here and a lot that I didn’t like. The problem is that the two are intertwined in many ways and so by the end of the book, while I was glad that it was over, I was also glad that I’d read it.
The best parts of the book are undoubtedly Morgenstern’s writing style and her world-building skills. The characters might be one-dimensional and unmemorable (I constantly forgot who was who and now, twelve hours after finishing it, I already can’t remember any of their names), but the actual setting of the story – the night circus – is unforgettable. It’s just a shame that the author didn’t spend more time describing the environment and investigating the different acts and the different tents, because that was what I found interesting – as opposed to the actual story line, which didn’t really exist.
The big problem is that the narrative, such as it is, jumps backwards and forwards through time, and I don’t think there was any need for it. I guess Morgenstern was attempting to write literary fiction, but I feel that a story like this would have been better – and more enjoyable – as more of a linear plot but one which spanned generations. I get that the point here is more to show different snapshots of the story but it didn’t feel deliberate – it felt like it all came together accidentally. Then there were the occasional sections in which the manuscript used second person, which I hate. But a lot of this is personal taste, and so I can’t complain too much.
And yet despite all of this, I did still enjoy it. I liked the way it made me think, and I thought that little bits of it – like the splashes of red worn by the rêveurs – were fantastic. But no amount of beautifully constructed sentences and stunning imagery can make up for the fact that it felt like nothing much happened. It could have been a third of the length and still done the job, and I’d argue that that’s what it needs. Imagine an illustrated version with all of the crap cut out so that you’re left with a condensed copy that packs a more powerful punch. It might even have earned a five.
Still, I can’t give this a three or below purely because it is a good book – it’s just not as good as I was expecting. People go on and on about it – or at least they did when it was released – and it’s not something I’d recommend going out of your way for. I picked it up in a charity shop and left it on my shelf for a year before reading it. In hindsight, I feel like that was appropriate. And at last, I can move on from the circus.