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The Night Circus

Posted by Dan Smyth On Friday, October 04, 2013

I'm not usually a proponent of breaking the rules, but very occasionally allow myself an indulgence. When I first picked this book up, I knew I was asking for trouble. My wife actually accused me of choosing it because I wanted something to pick to pieces, and that might have been slightly true. But only a little. It's more likely that I chose it because occasionally I'm just a glutton for punishment.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS is Erin Morgenstern's debut novel, and I actually felt kind of bad for a bit when I found that out after structuring this entire review. I really don't like knocking down newbies. Even ones that are getting a ludicrous number of places--including People and USA Today--to lavish her with laud, and praise, and honor.

The “story”, such as it is, surrounds a very particular kind of circus that is only open during nighttime hours and contains all sorts of fantastical tents and acts. Within this backdrop, two very old men with a high level of magical prowess each train a student to participate in a game of skill where there will only be one winner. This is complicated though, when the two students fall in love. However...

Describing this book with that summary (one that is very similar in content to the one used to promote the book) is almost as large a travesty as me deciding to list the book as being within the fantasy genre. Because although the concept of the game is probably the most prevalent of the few ideas in the book, very little time at all is actually spent on it.

Instead, the chapters revolve around two things: giving background information on the multitude of characters and waxing verbose through descriptive surroundings (including all of the circus tents). The students don't even know who each other are. Neither of them knows the rules. They just do their thing with regard to the circus and hope that they come out well for them. Finding any kind of actual plot line was incredibly difficult. I really had to laugh though, when I read one part of the Q&A on the NIGHT CIRCUS Amazon page:

Q. What was the most challenging aspect of developing this story?
A. It didn't have a plot for a very long time. (Read more...)

Yes, there's more to that quote (and feel free to follow the link and read the rest. It's about a third of the way down the page), but this portion not only contains the crux of the entire response, it succinctly wraps up my thoughts on the story as a whole: there was no plot. It was simply an idea. An idea that was avoided and disregarded and talked around. There was no point to the novel. No excitement. No anticipation. Instead, it was a very pretty, empty shell of a book that absolutely stymies the logical portions of my brain that say, “Honestly. How can anyone find this stuff good?”

Readers who like to read pages and pages of descriptions and character history (but mostly descriptions), dig in. You'll love this one. Those that like actual story, like us, will find this book a great waste of their time.

Recommended Age: 15+
Violence:  Someone dies after being stabbed
Profanity:  One F-word, just like the obligatory single offering in nearly every PG-13 movie of the 90's -- otherwise, I can't remember any at all
Sex:  One short scene with moderate detail

The Night Circus


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