Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

The Night Circus
by Erin Morganstern
Doubleday Canada, 2010
385 pages

What a lovely, lovely book. I have this thing against fantasy gone mainstream bestseller. I'm always delighted to see it happen, because I'm always happy to see people reading fantasy. But I've also always found that, to my dismay, the fantasy book that makes it big rarely makes me a happy reader. The few I've read just don't grab me; perhaps I expect too much of them. They seem bland, formulaic, and only occasionally very well written.

The Night Circus bucked the trend. It's definitely a fantasy, and it was reviewed glowingly in The Globe and Mail, and I was seeing it all over the place for a while. So I was leery. But the things Robert J. Wiersma said in his review were perfectly targeted to exactly me as a reader, so I had to give it a try.

The whole experience of reading this book is rather dreamlike. I think it's because it's written in the present tense, which threw me for a few minutes (I feel like normally I would be obliged to hate this) and then ceased to matter. But that choice means that, particularly as the circus comes into being, it does read like a dream. A wonderful dream, a complicated dream, a sometimes scary dream, but the sort of complicated, beautiful dream everyone hopes to have when they lay down for the night. It's also a puzzle, with the pieces falling into place slowly and carefully. Things that are hinted at near the beginning start to take on greater and greater importance; my favourite example is the way reading, books, and most especially stories all gain importance as the tale moves along.

If I had one small complaint, it was that while some characters leap off the pages with their quirks and desires, others remain thin or distant, even those who aren't supposed to; I loved Poppet and Widget, for example, and Bailey worked well for me, but Marco, though he was one of the leads, remained a bit of a cipher though I can't quite say why. I think I enjoyed the sections written from Cecelia's perspective better, which might have caused distance between Marco and I. Otherwise, I thought the writing was excellent, as evinced by the fact that I couldn't dump the book despite my initial reaction to its tense. The story is interesting, creative, and enchanting.

I would dare one to read this and not want to find the Night Circus, just once, and step inside its black and white gates to stare at the clock, get some popcorn and cider, and lose oneself in the dream.


Vasilly said...

I agree with you on the characters. There were a few (like the mentors) that I would have loved to know more about.

I'm glad you enjoyed this.

Bookwyrme said...

Present tense, second person. I ought to have hated it. I didn't even *notice* until more than halfway through, I was so enthralled. (And when I did notice, I said "Wow!").

Loved this one & now want to read it again.

Unknown said...

Vasilly - I think keeping the mentors a little mysterious worked for me, particularly Alexander (I felt I knew quite enough about Hector, thank you very much!) but I do wonder if I had trouble connecting to Marco by association. With Alexander I would have liked to know more, know him better, but the mystery also felt kind of satisfying to me.

Bookwyrme - I think it was maybe three or four pages in when I thought, "wait, what the heck...?" but by then I already had to keep going.

Jill said...

I keep hearing things about this book but haven't tried it for exactly the reasons you mention in the beginning of your review! Sounds like I should give it a chance. Do you think I'd like it?

Unknown said...

I do, actually, yes, though I find it hard to speak objectively. It's mostly well-written and beautiful. And since my disappointment with fantasy-gone-mainstream is usually that it's a) not as creative and b) not as well-written as other fantasy I've read, this book easily bucks those trends. I would have loved it if I'd come across it without all the hype, too. Just don't let the tense problems throw you and give it a bit of a chance at the beginning, and I do think you'll like it. Would love to see your thoughts!

Unknown said...

Sigh. And by "tense problems" I mean "unusual choice of tense," not that it's grammatically incorrect or something equally unforgiveable.