Monday, February 25, 2013

Book Review: The Night Circus

It's true that I both completely enjoyed this book and yet found it a bit of a letdown. The problem is that I was expecting it to be a completely envisioned historical tale like Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. That's not unreasonable, since both are historically set and involve magicians in the real world. In this case, author Erin Morgenstern tells of a mysterious traveling circus that only opens at night, with multitudes of lavishly realized tents and an interesting collection of characters, as well as a clandestine contest with unknown rules lying behind it all. It's fun to explore the tents and to see what Morgenstern's imagination will come up with next. The plot that unfolds is a complex dance of characters, with unexpected outcomes and satisfying conclusions. But where this goes for theme-park-like atmosphere, Jonathan Strange went for palpable realism. I felt like the Night Circus was just an authentically magical Disney Park at times, and the characters were not true turn-of-the-century characters but 21st-century people dressed up in 19th-century clothes. The story feels current, when it shouldn't. This book gives you a magical circus, while Jonathan Strange gives you a magical world, a whole space-time continuum in perfect period prose. I have the hunch that if I encountered this on its own terms without the comparison to Jonathan Strange (one of my favorite novels), I would have enjoyed it much more. Don't get me wrong, this circus is worth a visit, but it's a fine weekend trip. I don't intend to run off and join this circus anytime soon.

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