The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

Posted 8 May, 2012 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 33 Comments

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Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Published: 2011; Pages: 387
Genre: Fiction/Realistic Fantasy
Rating: 4/5

In Short: Celia and Marco are tied together at youth to compete with one another in a battle of skill at the grand venue of the night circus. Set in the late 1800s.

Why I read it: Because if your friends jumped off a bridge, wouldn’t you? Also I’m testing out a new face-to-face book club and this was the April selection (though I asked for and received it for Christmas).

Thoughts in General: First there was extreme hype about this book. And then a fair amount of criticism. I feel lucky that I waited a few months for the hype to die down so that I could go into this one with lowered expectations (how’s that for a start?). The Night Circus is a vivid and vibrant book that will immediately transport you from your comfy reading chair to a magical and wondrous world. There is no question in my mind that this book will make a fantastically gorgeous movie—and I’m thinking that only Tim Burton could properly pull it off (movie has been optioned by Summit).

The criticism? That the book contains flat and/or underdeveloped characters. Yes, it’s true (well, about them being underdeveloped). Did this bother me? Nope. I do prefer to read more character centered books (generally speaking), but not always and this one worked perfectly fine the way it was. Sure I would have loved to know some of the back story—could there be a spinoff?—but I didn’t need to know. Honestly the book is about the circus and the circus is so well drawn that there isn’t much room left for strong character development. I still cared about the characters and was interested in them.

So basically what worked well for me while reading The Night Circus was the atmosphere, the phenomenal descriptions, the depth and layer of detail. The characters were all very interesting—and I disagree that they were flat. Perhaps instead there were too many characters for enough focus to be put on any one. My biggest quip comes from the heavy shroud of mystery; there was constantly so much unknown and it became too much of a tease to the point where I started to disconnect a little bit. I also did not entirely agree with the choice of ending—the “right place at the right time” wasn’t satisfactory enough for me given the heavy themes of fate in the book.

Bottom Line: I’m a big fan of going into books blindly without knowing too much, but I think with this one it’s good to know what you’re going to receive from the story and what you’re not. Brilliant setting and atmosphere and mediocre characters. This one was suggested at my work book club and several people had already read it—and loved it. I was the only one of the new book club who enjoyed this one! The big complaint was lack of plot (disagree) and not caring about the characters (also disagree). I will say that I was more interested in this one when I attempted to read 200 pages in one day—my heart was literally racing at some places where I tore past the pages. Bottom Line – I hope you enjoy it but don’t feel bad if you don’t. *wink*

Have you read this one? Love it, Like it, or Hate it? If you haven’t read it, will you or no?

On the Blog:
One Year Ago – Introducing Baby Girl – April 25th, 2011
Two Years Ago – Brooke’s Notecards and Bookmark Winner
Three Years Ago – Sunday Salon 5 – Back to Basics
Four Years Ago – Weekly Geeks #1 and Challenge Questions

33 Responses to “The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern”

  1. I have been thinking of taking interesting pictures of the books I read to include in my posts. I like yours! It just would tie into my whole ‘use my camera more’ idea…

    Anyway, I read this book last year and really liked it. I am glad you did for the most part, too. With all the hype surrounding it I am glad I read it before it got crazy because otherwise I might not have read it at all…

  2. What a beautiful photo! I don’t read much fantasy and haven’t been inspired to pick this up. Of course, book club could change that…

  3. I disagree with all the comments about flat characters. The characters were subtle, but very real. In fact, I believe I said in my review that one of the strong points were how round the characters were! Especially if you take into account the non-people characters, like the circus itself. I loved the dreamy quality of this book. The last chapter wasn’t the best, that whole tell-a-story bit, but other than that, I just loved every piece of this book.

  4. I agree about the characters, but I think that the description was so vivid, given that the circus is THE character, that it really didn’t matter in this case. I also agree about the ending, but again, I was able to overlook that because I was mesmerized by the circus. Glad you ended up enjoying it, though.

  5. Funny-this post made me realize how out of the loop I am. I have never heard of this book, except for a time or two that you have mentioned it to me. Yikes! It sounds different enough that I am interested in reading it though! How was your IRL book club? Was it with all strangers, or did you know anyone there?

  6. I had the same thoughts about this book. The characters needed some fleshing out but the circus itself was so magnificent. Can you imagine if it was real? I would probably follow it around too.

  7. I’m glad to hear you say you waited to read it so you could have lowed expectations. That’s EXACTLY why I’ve been waiting to pick it up. The hype was just overwhelming. I have it on my shelf and maybe now is a good time to dive in.

  8. I’ve had this one several times and just haven’t gotten to it. I will, one day. I love that you take a picture of your books instead of using one on Amazon like I do.

  9. *Kailana – Take pictures!! I think it adds a bit of interest (or at least I hope). ;) And I’m glad the hype has died down around this one, though I think that it will rise again once the movie comes out!!

    *Debi – Read it! But go in with NO expectations. (I know, easier said than done).

    *Diane – I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! I was surprised no one at the book club meeting liked it.

    *JoAnn – I would call this one “realistic fantasy” and am actually going to change the genre on this post. More magical than fantasy. I do hope that if you read it you enjoy it–there’s a lot to like.

    *Amanda – I don’t think that “flat” is the correct word (need to amend some discrepancies in my post), but I do think the characters were underdeveloped. But I definitely agree with you on the Circus being very round as a “character.” So glad you loved this one! I’m happy to have liked it a lot. ;)

    *Anna – I was a little leery when I first started reading this one but it was very easy to get swept up in the circus! And I absolutely agree that the lack of characterization is forgivable in this novel with everything else going on.

    *Laura – I was a little surprised when I learned that so many people here at work had read it or were planning to read it–I think I have a skewed idea of what’s popular from blogging. I think you might like this one, though! And I definitely didn’t know anyone in the book club (meets at A Real Bookstore) and was definitely the youngest. But it was fun.

    *Bermudaonion – Don’t let the fantasy tag scare you–it’s a very realistic type of fantasty (if that makes sense).

    *Vasilly – I know just what you mean about the circus! It definitely was the showstopper of the entire book. Can’t wait to see the visuals in the movie!

    *Melissa – I kind of hate saying that I went in to this reading with lowered expectations but for me that really worked. The hype was SO fantatical that I was happy to start seeing a bit of criticism. I do hope that you enjoy it when you get to it!

    *Stacybuckeye – Hope you get a chance to read it soon!

    *Lisa – I’m trying to only include my own pictures on the website–plus it’s fun trying to think up the pictures. Fun now–not sure if forever. ;)

  10. I plan to read this one eventually, but I’m nervous because I generalkly (in the past, at least) dislike fantasy…

  11. I’ve wanted to read this. It sounds fun and mysterious. It seems very similar to Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I’m putting it on my list.

    “the right place at the right time” sounds exactly like fate to me. You make it sound like they are different.

    Good break down of this, Trish.


  12. Love that picture! And I love The Night Circus, it might be on its way to becoming one of my all time favorite books ever. I can honestly say I’d rather live at the Cirque de Reves than even Hogwarts. Yup, I said it.

    I totally expected to dislike this book, because I hate circuses. But the circus is so much more, it’s like a living, breathing character, carved out of imagination and love. And Jim Dale does the audio version, which was how I first read it.

  13. I want to read this. I really REALLY do. But I’m uber nervous because everyone has an Opinion. Perhaps I read it in a couple of years as a throwback. You know, kickin’ it old school. But futuristic-ally. Ergh?!

  14. I still feel sort of torn about reading this even though I do own a copy. I want to but I don’t want to get bored. The atmosphere sounds so interesting though, so I may have to still consider it.

  15. *Jillian – You shouldn’t let the fantasy aspect scare you–it’s set in realistic times with the element of magic. Definitely very believable.

    *Pax – You do make a great point about the “right time and right place” being kind of fateful but I think it will make more sense once you’ve read this one–nothing else was “right time and right place” so this felt very out of place. Anyway–I’ll really look forward to hearing what you think!

    *Kate – I didn’t realize that Jim Dale narrated this one! Incidentally–didn’t he also narrate the Harry Potter books? And I’m with you–I would LOVE to see the Cirque de Reves before I see Hogwarts–everything about the circus sounds so spectacular.

    *Christina – LOL!! Well I hope that you like it. It’s certainly an entertaining book!

    *Jenny – I don’t think you should worry about getting bored, especially if you plan to read it quickly. My qualm was more with *everything* being shrouded in mystery, but I don’t think that’s usually a bad thing. ;)

  16. thanks for the review because Ive been on the fence about this one because of the mixed reviews. The cover alone screams Tim Burton. Glad you enjoyed it and I agree not every book has to have these exquisitely drawn characters.

  17. I really want to read this one because it seems like so many people have loved it. I’m glad that you shared your honest thoughts on it because even though it wasn’t perfect, I realized that I still really want to read it :)

  18. Amy

    I’ve been on the fence about this, I sort of want to read it, but there have been enough middling reviews that I’m just sort of blah about it.

    I love your pic, tho!

  19. This sounds interesting… I appreciate the balanced review. I’m actually not familiar with it at all, but perhaps I’ll consider it. Although, I have to confess I’m not a fan of Tim Burton so that analogy may disuade me just a bit, haha :-) Great review!

  20. The hype on this book was unbelievable. I had people coming out of the woodwork telling me to read it. I did. I didnt get it(picture me scratching my head). Was bored most of the time but pushed on to the end. I think I am too simple to understand the love for this book.

  21. Great review of this book, Trish. I ended up loving the novel after taking little time to get into it. For me, once I just let myself sink into the visual images and story, it won me over.

  22. This was my favourite book last year, I was completely captivated by it. And I agree, I think Tim Burton would completely own this movie if he got his hands on it! As would the cast he usually picks for his movies

  23. *Jenny Girl – Honestly I think that if the characters had any more depth then the book would have drowned–would have just been too much. I do hope you enjoy it if you get to it!

    *Samantha – I think you’ll like this one! There certainly is a lot to like and I think the faults are pretty forgiveable.

    *Amy – Honestly I think the middling and “blah” reviews are the ones that saved me. Too much hype is often just tooooo much. I do hope you like it, though!

    *Melissa’s Bookshelf – Well you have been away haven’t you?! ;) This one made quite the splash at the end of last year.

    *Laura H – It sounds like you were a bit like the ladies in my bookclub who just didn’t get it. I liked the story but wasn’t quite as wrapped up in it as some others were. The circus was magical but the rest was take or leave, you know? Sorry this one didn’t work for you!

    *Andi – Agree that this imagery in this book was fantastic–some of the best descriptions I’ve read in a long time!

    *Wendy – Like you I enjoyed this book more as time continued to move on in the book. At first I was a little unsure of how I’d feel. I’m glad you ended up loving it!

    *Jules – It’ll be interesting to see who ends up with the movie. Hopefully Summit will do it correctly–think there’s a chance it could end up cheesy, you know?

  24. I thought this one was just okay, but really don’t have any good memories from it. And, in general, I often have read that readers like to wait until the hype of a book dies down before reading it themselves. Personally, I like reading a book during its hype. Maybe that’s a topic for you to ponder and post. :)

  25. Les

    I know you commented on my review back in January, but I have to say it again — I loved this book! I thought Jim Dale was a superb reader and in spite of my quibble about the nonlinear chronology, I enjoyed it immensely and hope to reread the printed version someday. I’d also love to see this on the big screen, wouldn’t you? I loved Poppet and Bailey and I still think about the boat on the sea of pages… such lovely details and descriptions. I wonder what Morgenstern will create next, don’t you?

  26. *Melody – Yes, I think you’d like The Night Circus!

    *Thoughts of Joy – Reading a book during it’s hype, huh? Or before the hype? I’ll have to jot that one down for a future Sunday Salon post. I’m often grateful to read a book before it gets to be too big but if the hype is large then I’ll wait for a while so as to not be swayed (not that it still doesn’t happen).

    *Les – It’s so funny to watch people’s reactions to this book. I’ve heard wonderful things about Jim Dale as a narrator but on the other hand I’ve heard people mention they didn’t enjoy listening to this one because of the narration! I do really look forward to seeing what Morgenstern will create next but I also wonder if she’ll fall into that category of one hit wonders. Always hate when that happens!