I read The Night Circus on the recommendation of a glowing review in The Globe and Mail and because Erin Morgenstern is coming to read from it tomorrow night (!). The Globe review suggested the book reminded her of reading the best novels of her life – the experience to be savoured and indulged like so much rich food. And while I enjoyed The Night Circus I’m not yet prepared to say it’s in the same room with the best books of my life (what are these books?).
So what are my problems? The story relies too heavily on the magic of the setting. An odd complaint perhaps from a book about magicians, a magical duel, a magical midnight circus, but the setting is just so. well. done. that when the characters remain somewhat flat and unpredictable (when do the two protagonists fall in love? you don’t know either? neither does the novel…), the plot holds inexplicable (and not ‘magic realism’ inexplicable, but just perplexing) elements and the writing is unremarkable. In a a tone that recalls Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or the tv show Carnivale the story feels like it’s missing a certain authenticity that I’m having trouble explaining or justifying, but is there nonetheless.
That said, I lack the range of synonyms for “incredible” and “awesome” with which to praise the setting. The circus is so enjoyable to wander, so full of surprises, creativity and, well, magic that I loved the book despite my other concerns. It’s well worth the read if you care at all about magicians or, if you’re like E. the circus.