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Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

You’ve probably seen this book in the window of your local bookstore. It’s been hyped, promoted, and advertised to death, so we decided to see what all the fuss was about. Critics loved it. The premise: Two old magicians train children into adulthood to compete against each other in a competition/showcase. The venue is a unique circus full of colorful performers and great minds. There can only be one winner, which makes it hard when the young magicians fall in love.

The good:
  • The descriptions, the circus, the scenery, and the visuals. This author is a painter and she knows how to describe art that comes to life in your head. You can see everything. The book’s world is colored, textured, and gorgeous. The descriptions of what’s going on, the clothes, the circus tents, and the circus acts are the best part of this book. If you love rich descriptions when you read, you’re gonna choke your chicken to this book. If you liked Memoirs of a Geisha because of all the descriptions of the kimonos, this book will deliver exactly what you like.
  • The actual writing is good. For a first novel, it’s stellar, and the author is obviously brilliant and talented. We think that’s the draw of this book for critics. A beautiful writing style is not all it takes to make a book great though...
  • The tone is gripping. Sometimes the book can be genuinely eerie and then, in the very next chapter, a scene will be full of childlike wonder. “Dreamlike” is a good word to describe this mood.
  • We wanted to go see the circus. We wanted to live in this world. We wanted this world to show up in our dreams.
  • We’re pretty sure this is going to be a movie soon, because it’s screaming to be made into a movie. The movie will be truly magical.
The bad:
  • It’s slow and takes a while to get into some action. One of us listened to it on audiobook and it was hard to finish. When it’s hard to LISTEN to a book while you are riding a bus, you know you’ve got a chore of a book. The writing and pace are akin to that of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It’s a wonder we finished that book. In fact, if you loved Jonathan Strange, you will love The Night Circus. They are similar. They both have little magical realism, a little of the macabre, and then a little all-out magic. They are both a little cold and distant from their characters and human themes. They both take a while to get going and could have been a heck of a lot shorter.
  • The plot takes a backseat to the scenery. The author even said in an interview, “Plot is not my strength” and confessed that she only thought up the circus and the magician/love/competition element (basically the whole plot) was pitched to her by publishers. She added it in after they gave her the inspiration. This is a woman who should be co-writing novels with another author. She should describe everything and let the other author do everything else. Better yet, Erin Morgenstern should probably make movies. She’s be a great director, visually. She should design sets and magical scenes. Film is what she should be in, not books.
  • If you are more into character development, plot, and dialogue in books, you are going to be really frustrated. One thing we wanted with this book was a character to root for. You never got into anyone’s head. You didn’t care who won the contest. You wouldn’t have been truly sad if anyone died. Some of the characters are interesting, but we don’t get inside their heads or stories enough. They are never fleshed out or explained to an extent that you want them to be. The consequence is that the book never grabbed our hearts. 
  • It ends like Lord of the Rings. There are about five too many endings. But, unlike with Lord of the Rings, by now you don't care about everyone's fate and you already know what happens to everyone. There isn't much new information.
Bottom line? Unless descriptions are your favorite parts of books, you’re gonna want to wait for the movie on this one.

Book grade: C
Writing grade: A

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