It’s been quite a while since I’ve been thoroughly swept up by a story. Even rarer still is the urge to savor each and every last word, whiling away the entire day simply immersed in words. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern took me by surprise, denying me my staunch speed-reading tendencies in favor of a long, lazy day soaking up the fantastical world described within.
I’m not usually a fan of flowery prose, and so was prepared to side with those readers who felt that this book’s flashy show didn’t make up for a lack of substance. While Morgenstern was undoubtedly aiming for a crowd-pleaser with her novel detailing the mysterious workings of this nomadic nightly circus, it has wound up being rather divisive amongst readers who either love it or hate it. I place much of this blame on the publishers, who through a misleading jacket blurb and marketing campaign mistakenly touted this novel as a story of fierce rivalry and heated competition. While the competition is a central, necessary element through which the plot unfolds, it’s certainly not an action-packed affair. Those readers hoping for a story about bitter foes and grand spectacles were likely disappointed to find instead a quiet, meandering tale of subtle acts of love.
Morgenstern’s fledgling effort certainly isn’t without faults. Reviewers criticizing the inadequate character development, unexplained worldbuilding, and confusing conclusion have valid complaints. In other circumstances, these flaws would be enough to mar my enjoyment of the book (indeed, characters and plot are the two essential facets of a story, and if done poorly, there’s probably not much left to recommend your writing). Yet what these reviewers don’t realize is that, while Celia and Marco are, in a sense, the story’s protagonists, they are nevertheless not the main characters. That honor goes to the circus itself, and the exquisite care with which Morgenstern describes this particular character does more than enough to make up for the less-than-fleshed-out string of secondary characters. Likewise, while Morgenstern might not manage to convincingly convey the mechanics behind the competition and the magicians’ resultant connection to the circus, these plot holes are mere quibbles when one considers the story to be merely a vehicle through which the audience is able to experience the circus for themselves.
I normally skip over lengthy passages of mere description, yet I couldn’t bear to spare even a single line of The Night Circus the attention it deserved. The Night Circus is a book whose strength lies in its imagery and the atmosphere it creates. The nonlinear storyline and shifting perspectives enhance the otherworldly quality of the circus itself. I’m likely overlooking many mishaps that would prove fatal in another book, but my opinion represents the sheer wonder I felt while immersed in Morgenstern’s world. The Night Circus isn’t a perfect book, but I’ll be darned if it didn’t feel that way as the pages flipped past.