‘The Night Circus’ Book Review

My super fabulous trainer Nicole decided to start a book club and while I was a bit, um, nervous, I said I’d join.

Why was I nervous, you ask? Because I’m a picky reader. I have my favorite genres and I tend to stay in my comfort zone. Telling me to read out of that zone is akin to pushing me from an airplane at 20,000 feet with some silly string and a pillowcase. I’d really rather not, thank you very much.

And that is precisely why I decided to join the book club. I need to stretch my reading wings and discover books I would never pick up on my own.

Our first meeting was a few weeks ago and we read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

It’s hard for me to read a book as just a reader. I find my writer’s mind keeps cycling through the words as if trying to pick apart where the author ‘showed’ rather than ‘told’ the story. Or, I’ll get caught up in what rules the writer is breaking and how did the book ever get past the slush pile? My writer’s mind can be very irritating at times.

Only when a book truly takes me away do I turn off the writer in me and just allow myself to be transported to another world. When that happens, it’s magic of the best kind.

If The Night Circus wasn’t a book club choice, I wouldn’t have made it past the first fifty pages. Ms. Morgenstern breaks so many writer rules that I kept getting cranky. She switches character point of view often within a chapter, making it hard to understand who we are following at certain times. The narrator is either omniscient or third person, depending on the chapter, and she jumps around in time. One chapter might be 1896 and the next, 1902 and back to 1894. It takes a while to understand the plot and get a feel for the characters.

Once I got past my writer angst, I let myself be absorbed into the world of the circus. Once past those first fifty pages, I started to enjoy the book. More than I thought I would, actually. I relaxed and let the book take me away to a place where magic is more than just illusion. The only problem then was that I just wanted more. More… what? I wasn’t sure.

The plot is simple ~ two men choose a competitor for a challenge. Only the victor will survive. Got it.

The competitors, Marco and Celia, know they are chosen, but don’t know when the competition will begin or what the rules are. Um, okay. I think.

Once a venue is picked for the competition (the circus), Marco and Celia have to outwit each other in… wait for it… room design! No, seriously. Each one of them tries to make a better room, be it an ice garden, a huge labyrinth, a room with a black tree and candles where you make wishes, etc. I didn’t really understand the whole ‘rooms are the death-til-the-end! competition, but the way the rooms were written made up for it.

There is a large cast of characters in the book, some I liked more than others. Some I wondered why they were there at all. I wanted to love Marco and Celia, but they are written at arms length and I had a hard time feeling any empathy for them as they ‘battled’ one another. When there finally was a love scene, I felt cheated out of an opportunity to bond with them. Moreover, I felt they were denied something promising. Not only did I want more for myself as a reader, I wanted more for them. Love, happiness, a future, anything!

I confess, I like happy endings. I’m not exactly sure what this ending was, but I didn’t feel happy at the end of it. When a book grabs me I don’t ever want it to end. I want to know what the characters are doing after I read the last word. I want to know they will thrive in their made up literary world. When I closed the cover of this book I thought, Meh.

Ms. Morgenstern spends quite a bit of time detailing the clothing and elements of the circus (the tents are black and white stripped, got it. Don’t tell me that six hundred times), and not enough time answering the questions she teases the reader with. There are several missed opportunities for the book to raise above and it stays stagnant. It gets too caught up in being tricksy and ‘ooh, look at that sparkly thing’. Cute gimmicks, but they wear thin after a hundred pages or so.

Out of five quills, I’ll give this book three. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it, but the story resonated with me. A scrap of description here, or a bit of Marco and Celia’s love story there, will float through my mind at odd hours of the day. I’ll keep it on my bookshelf and maybe someday take it down to read again.

Everyone at Book Club enjoyed the book. Some were confused by it and others thought it was the best they’ve read in a long time.

Have you read The Night Circus? What did you think of it? What are you reading now? If you’ve got a book to recommend, I’d love to know about it!

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17 thoughts on “‘The Night Circus’ Book Review

  1. I avoid book clubs for the same reason you stated, Tameri. I don’t want to invest time in a book that doesn’t leave me uplifted. However, I’ve noticed that when trapped in a story without a happy ending, leaning more towards the literary side, the story plot and the characters stick with me. So something about the writing established itself in my memory bank. Most annoying is a series that does not feel completed, and is only a segment of a whole story, compelling one to buy the next book. I’m stubborn enough to refuse. Often when I put a commercial fiction book down, though it has been a great reading experience, often I forget the story, but if well done, remember the characters. There is an interesting bridge between the modern writing rules we’ve learned, and the writing rules many successful published authors break. Sometimes one wonders how the book got published, and then you hear about someone else who loved the story. Nice that we have different tastes.

    Great review!

    • Thanks Marion!

      I’m so with you on the literary stories not necessarily having to have a happy ending. I guess when I say happy ending I really mean resolution. I want the story to end with finality, unless it’s a series. But that last book better tie everything up in a nice little bow!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. I’ve been meaning to read The Night Circus. Interestingly enough Erin Morgenstern was the first pep-talk we received in NaNo this year. The Night Circus concept came from one of her own NaNo novels and evolved out of that project into what was published. It sounds like something I’m not going to rush off to read, but would like to at least give it a try one day. =) Thanks for the review!

    • Seriously? I think that’s pretty cool this book came out of a NaNo. Definitely give it a try at some point. The constructs are pretty cool.

      I’m definitely interested to see what she does next!

  3. Fantastic review. I haven’t read it and…well I am unlikely to. LOL! It doesn’t sound like my style and I think a lot of the confusion you experienced would distract me from the story.
    I’ve never been in a book club but I think if we had one nearby I’d consider it. I like being pushed to read different books – things I would have never considered on my own because you never know what “gem” you’ll find. I can’t wait to hear what you read next. Eeeekeee….

    • Yep, that’s why I’m doing the book club and now that I’m hosting next month and reading your suggestion, it better rock. Kidding! I’m excited about having to read a bunch of different books I’d never pick up otherwise.

      Don’t totally discount The Night Circus. If you get a chance at some point, give it a try. I’d be curious to hear what you think.

  4. I too have never been in a book club. It might be a good thing for me, but I find I read so slow because I am doing SO many things. I am just too divided. I haven’t read Night Circus and don’t believe I am likely to now. I have a large stack just waiting for me here at home. *sigh* I am currently halfway through Demon Soul by Christine Ashford and I am enjoying it.

    • I think it’s hard for writers to be in book clubs ~ I know for me it is. I always want to talk about the book in a different way than everyone else. They really don’t care about rule breaking or POV’s or why the writer did this vs. doing that. You know, more craft stuff that they don’t know about. I have to remember a book club is not a writer’s group. We aren’t there to critique the work!

      I have a huge stack of TBR books on my shelf as well. I’m so inspired by everyone’s ROW80 goals, that I’ve started making goals on Sunday and each week I pick a book to read ~ one on craft and on for fun. I then budget into my day how ever many chapters I think I can read. So far, it’s working great and I love that I’m making myself take some time to slow down, get off the computer, and enjoy a book. Whew!

      I’ll check out Demon Soul, sounds intriguing.

  5. Tameri,

    What do you normally read?? (Dying to know now.)

    I read everything but my comfort books are women’s fiction and romance. Like now, being sick, I read the latest Nora Roberts (I was kinda disappointed but, hello? Nora.) and an Eloisa James Historical romance. When I’m on the mend again, I’ll go back to Hotel on The Corner of Bitter & Sweet. Next on my list is Dean Koontz’ “The Husband.”

    • Hahaha. I read fantasy (big surprise!) mostly, but I also have a ton of historical fiction. I’ll read YA if it catches my fancy, but it’s usually fantasy or like the Traveling Pants books, the characters have to steal my heart. And, this one might surprise you, I read some action/thrillers. I’ll read Dan Brown because I love the historical aspect of the books and I’m a sucker for Barry Eisler’s Rain series.

      I’ve never read Nora. I should give her a try. That Corner of Bitter and Sweet sounds very intriguing. I’m going to give that a go and you know, I just got one of the Sweet Potato Queens’ books to read!

  6. I haven’t read it, and based on this review and a couple of others, I probably won’t. It seems like one where the hype doesn’t live up to the reality. I guess it helps sell a lot of books though…

    • Yeah, I have to agree on that. Some new authors get a lot of hype because they are ‘different’, which is great, but the book has to back it up. I so wanted this book to be more than it was. I kept hoping and hoping, but it never happened.

      Happy to see you here, Julie! Thanks for the comment.

  7. Hmm, yours is the second review I’ve read about this book, from people whose opinions I trust. It sounds like a concept that I would really enjoy, so I think I’m going to have to give it a chance and hope the techniques don’t get in the way. I like a good dose of mystery and whimsy in my fiction, so I’ll try to just go along for the journey. I’ve never been a member of a book club, but I’ve moved countries and states so many times in the past two years that I’m now a long, long way from most of my friends and family. Perhaps a book club would be a good way to meet some like-minded people in my new town, even if I don’t love all the choices.

    • If you like whimsy, this book is definitely for you! That’s one of the aspects I liked about it. Let me know what you think of it. I hope you can find some great people in your new town to have a book club with. I’m really enjoying the group we’ve got. And it’s getting me to read outside my comfort zone, which I totally love.

      Thanks for swinging by, Naomi!

  8. Since I love your trashy tv recaps, I should have known you would be a mighty fine book reviewer! It is interesting how, once we become part of the writing world ourselves, we read differently and it’s sometimes difficult to stop being critic in that regard. I joined an online book club this past year for the same reason as you. I wanted to push myself into different genres. Since I have NO time to add another social engagement to my life, discussing the book online seemed like a good way to go. So far, it’s been an excellent experience. It’s also forcing me to keep reading when all I want to do is write! You know what that’s all about! I like the classics (Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, etc) and i keep my eye on the NYT bestseller list. I just finished Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet and struggled with it at first but about a third of the way in, it grabbed me and I was very glad I had read it. I could relate because my first novel is a slow starter too! I always find Nora Roberts a bit disappointing but you have to admire the way she has built an audience. When I want a good, easy laugh I read Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum series. I’m going to read the SPQs too!

  9. Pingback: A Lesson Learned | Tameri Etherton

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