Monday, October 17, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I spend a lot of time reading reviews of books that won’t be out for a month or two and often put holds on upcoming books and then forget all about them. When Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus showed up on the hold shelf it rang no bells at all. Truthfully, I probably would have skipped it if the cover weren’t so pretty. A few hours later I was a good hundred pages in and seriously impressed. I took a break for some googling and found that lots of other people have shared my enthusiasm. I was not surprised.

The book’s central characters, Celia and Marco, are two magicians who’ve been trained since childhood to represent their respective teachers in an ill-defined competition (we’re talking Merlin-type magician here, not David Copperfield or Harry Potter). The Night Circus is created to be the venue for their rivalry and they compete by adding ever more fantastic spectacles to the traveling exhibition. Over more than a decade the circus fills up with magical curiosities such as a garden sculpted from unmelting ice and a menagerie of animated paper animals, all hidden away in a dark maze of tents that moves around the world without warning, open from dusk to dawn in whatever town it pops up in. The more Marco and Celia compete, the more their lives and work become intertwined, eventually developing a romantic connection that unbalances everything. But, truth be told, the plot is not the most important part of the book.

The descriptions of the circus are vivid and entrancing, never over-describing what can be better conveyed with a few impressionistic glimpses. This philosophy carries over to the book’s structure; short and intriguing scenes are presented out of chronological order, gradually resolving themselves into a cohesive whole. In fact, the effect is rather like walking through a mysterious circus in the middle of the night, peeking into various tents as you go along. The experience may be confusing at times, but you’re there to experience something otherworldly and any disorientation just adds to the effect.

About two-thirds of the way through the book my blood ran cold at the sudden realization that this novel is sure to be adapted into a terrible movie. Elaborate CGI effects will capture all of the detail of the circus but fail to grasp the ethereal mysteries that make the book something special. The Internet tells me that the movie rights have been purchased by the studio that made the Twilight movies. Hopefully I’m wrong and the movie will be great. If not, look for me outside the theater, trying to persuade people to read the book instead.


  1. I was actually quite disappointed with the book.

    There were too many descriptive passages that didn't add anything to the story, and actually distracted from the circus itself.

    My review is here, if you are interested:

  2. It's always fun to read a different take on it! I'd argue that the descriptive passages added a lot to the book, even if they didn't further the story exactly.
    You're the only person I've seen refer to it as a young adult novel. What gave you that impression? (As I mentioned, I was a little out of it on this one, so maybe it was marketed as YA and I missed it.)