Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review: The Night Circus

The Night Circus
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm always wary of picking up books based on gushing praise. I'm often disappointed, and I wind up mad at the book or myself for missing whatever aspect would've made me love it.

In this case, while the book didn't entirely live up to the way people fell over themselves to tell me what an experience it was, it wasn't a crushing disappointment, either. It was an enjoyable, well-crafted tale, and I look forward to what else Erin Morgenstern might produce. It was an excellent debut, but it still had some hallmarks of a debut.

My biggest issue with the story was the artificiality of it. The ending doesn't feel like it came to a head because of the inevitability. It feels like it came to a head because enough pages had been spent on the build-up, and so forces had to conspire to kick the protagonists in the butt. The narrative tension is very nicely crafted, and I felt a need to keep reading, but the trigger for the book's climax feels like a deus ex machina.

Similarly, I felt like the justification for the mystery and intrigue is thin. I was unconvinced of the need for all the secrecy around the challenge, the terms, and the conditions for winning. Once again, it feels artificial, like it was only there to ramp up the tension and mystery.

Otherwise, though, this is a superbly written book. The language is rich and textured, the story paced beautifully. It captures the Victorian feel while adding enough modern touches to tie the reader to the story.

Where the story really connects, I thought, is that it serves as something of a love letter to fandom. The people so obsessed with Le Cirque des Rêves that they have their own community and dress code are called reveurs, and I couldn't help but compare them to modern-day fandoms. That their existence positively impacts the plot sends the message that the obsessively-minded are welcome here, that they're in good company. So many aspects of pop culture sneer at passionate devotion that it was a refreshing change.

I read this book on audio, with the talented Jim Dale narrating. If you're thinking about picking this up, I recommend the audio edition. By the end, I felt like that was how the book was meant to be enjoyed, and that it would lose something in translation on paper and ink.

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