The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am super conflicted about this book ... I loved so much of it but there were flaws. Flaws that keep me from giving it a 5 star rating ... even though many aspects of this novel deserve a 5 star rating! This is one of those novels that has so much potential that I'm sad not to be able to give it a 'this is my favorite book of 2011' rating!
What I loved most about this book was how Erin Morgenstern created a story unlike any story that I've ever read. It is unique. It is compelling. It is simply wonderful. Seriously - like nothing I've ever read. I feel like most fiction today is just the same few stories told over and over again with different nuances. That is NOT the case with this novel. Until you've read it, you just won't understand the uniqueness of the novel. Seriously - it's that unique. I can't explain it and wouldn't even if I could. Discovering it yourself is one of the best things about this novel.
The structure of the novel is frankly brilliant. Different plot threads are woven in and out of time throughout the novel (which was sometimes a bit confusing, if I'm honest) but they come together amazingly at the end. And you realize just how brilliant Erin Morgenstern was in her structuring of the narrative. It's fantastic! I think I'll go back and read it again at some point because I think it would be interesting to see how she did it, now that I know what I know.
The best part of the book, however, is the creativity that Erin Morgenstern shows in her painting of the world of this novel. There are certain aspects of the circus that literally blew me away. I was amazed at some of what she created with her words and the use of magic. The circus itself makes this book worth reading. It is simply stunning. The setting of this book is, I suspect, the reason for the hype and insane attention this book has gotten. It's unlike anything you will have read about before. In some ways the strength of setting may well be one of the primarily downfalls of the book since it seems to overtake all other aspects of the novel. The characters, plot and story often seem to be taking a backseat to the stunning backdrop of the circus. They simply cannot compete.
There is a feeling of distance and coldness to the story. I'm not sure that I can explain it well but I never felt connected to the people or the places in any real way. They were beautifully described but left me cold. Even uninterested, in some cases. They were so woefully underdeveloped that they just left me cold. A case in point is the romance in the novel. It just didn't work. The two characters never really seemed connected to me - they seemed like cardboard mannequins walking around and saying they love each other but never showing it or even really feeling it. I liked them but I didn't connect with them. I loved the world they lived in but they never came alive for me.
The next thing that I didn't love was the fact that it felt like a truly slowwwwwww moving train at times. I felt like it lost some of its steam at times. Not the entire book but sometimes. I think this is a product of the intertwining of plot lines that didn't always make sense. It didn't allow the novel to flow in the fast paced way you might expect, given the subject matter - magic. It's almost like the book keeps you at a distance. It doesn't let you in at all. It treats you like a visitor, never giving you the sense of being there. Despite it moving slow at times, I was never bored or not interested in going back for more. I just felt like I was watching a really slow movie that I was dying to see but surprised at how long it was taking to get where it needed to go.
Although I love the story generally, I will say that its not nearly as full as it could have been. It's unique, its fantastic but it doesn't go beyond the surface. The descriptions make the world come alive but not the story. The magic of this novel is the writing - there were moments when Erin Morgenstern just knocked me out with her beautiful words. Her wordplay astounded me at times. I would re-read a passage, amazed at how beautiful it was. But, in the end, I wanted a bit more 'meat' in the story itself. I'd prefer to have that AND the beautiful writing. Erin Morganstern has insane talent at creating a unique world & describing it. But, I'd like to have seen a bit more behind that world and its descriptions. It would have taken a good book and made it outstanding.
I completely understand why this book is getting so much attention and praise. I'm sure that it will blow many readers away. I really liked it, for the most part, but I was not blown away. I recommend this book because when it is great, it is great. Just know, going in, that there are flaws here. I may be in the minority since so many others that I respect seemed to be astounded by this novel. Anyway, I recommend it and I truly hope you are astounded in a way that I was not. Happy Reading!
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