Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Night Circus

The Night Circus. There are hundreds of reviews of it out there. It is a book of the moment. So why add my  thoughts? Well there is the usual because I just need to force my opinions on others but then there is also another reason. The Night Circus is yet another YA (Young Adult) book that has been published as an adult novel.
This story by Erin Morgenstern is about two gifted young students of magic, Marco and Celia. Their school/arena of competition is The Circus of Dreams. This circus appears in fields around towns and villages mysteriously and stays from dusk to dawn. The acts are a mix of goth-lite and preciousness. Marco and Celia are at the mercy of sinister guardians in a game without clarified rules and that may take years of playing to determine a winner. As there doesn’t seem to any real life outside of the circus it is difficult to place the novel in a specific time period but best guess puts it at a haphazard or not well researched 19th century.

Nothing is created in a vacuum. We all compare the book we just finished to others that we have read. Similarities can draw us to read a book that sounds like something we’ve already read and enjoyed. For me this happens most often in fantasy novels. Occasionally the similarities you discover between books are an annoyance. If as you read The Night Circus it all seems vaguely familiar it may be because you have ever read one of my favorite novels  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or any of the  Harry Potter books.

Morgenstern’s writing is assured and colorful. There is a lot of lively description of the magic, the clothes and life in the world of the Circus. However the strengths of the writing are not enough to save a petering out of the plot and underdeveloped characters.

I do not consider The Night Circus to be a YA novel because I was not impressed by it. I think that it is Young Adult fiction for two reasons. The first is because the writing fails to convey an adult level of emotional and intellectual maturity. That the main characters are young has nothing to do with this, look at To Kill A Mockingbird. While that book can be read and understood by a YA audience the development of its characters and situations are adult.

The second reason is that the action of The Night Circus, the forward movement of the plot all happens by direct communication from Morgenstern.  We are told that this happens and that happens. There is no subtlety, no discovery, no build up of thoughts, ideas and characters to propel the story.

I have passed on The Night Circus to sixteen year old niece O. I know that she will enjoy it. She will take it as it comes and not expect more…she’s a lot younger than I am.


  1. oh good, Happy-- a friend had asked me to join a group read of The Night Circus but I told them I don't like magic and I don't like circuses. And now I can add that I don't read anything remotely bordering on YoungAdult. (I read children's lit. for my day job, after all.)
    As always, enjoying your reviews. I hope you are well. --Jenny

  2. Did you actually read the novel? Didn't you notice the location / month-year in the chapter titles?

    And your rationale for why this is Young Adult fiction seems to be a bit flawed -- I think that the author should know whether or not she wrote the book primarily for an adolescent audience (and in interviews she has made it clear that the novel was written for Adults.)

    And this book is nothing like the Harry Potter novels (I've read them all and enjoyed them).

    I found "The Night Circus" to be magical and didn't want it to end.

  3. I totally agree with your assessment -- can't believe this book has been so hyped.