The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

I don’t want to talk about this book. I want to snuggle with it. Snuggle snuggle snugg—ow, those are some pointy edges! Okay, book, you can just stay over there a minute.

Okay, so, this book. I heard some folks bein’ real excited about it earlier this year, and I was like, magicians? Circuses? Secret plots OF DOOM? I am so in. And so I put a hold on it at the library, some ridiculous amount of time in advance. And then in the intervening weeks this book seemed to get ALL the publicity, showing up on lots of blogs and in newspapers and on NPR, and everyone was like OMG THIS BOOK IS TEH AWESOMEST and I was like, ohlord. Because I’ve read those books before, and I have not liked them.

But as you can tell, this book I liked a ton, possibly because all those things that drew me into the story, and that made me worry that they would not be as good as everyone was shouting about, were really not that important. Yes, there are magicians. There is a mysterious contest so hush-hush that even the competitors have no idea what the contest is or how to win it. There is intrigue and subterfuge. But what I cared about was the circus.

The circus is this nearly completely black-and-white affair, with dozens of little tents with your usual circus fare and a few tents with really magical things — a magician disguised as an illusionist, a labyrinth, a wishing tree, a landscape made entirely of ice but still realistically aroma-ed. And what makes the circus truly special is that the author makes sure you know exactly what everything looks like and smells like and feels like and all those other sensory things. About a bonfire:

“As you walk closer, you can see that it sits in a wide black iron cauldron, balanced on a number of clawed feet. Where the rim of a cauldron would be, it breaks into long strips of curling iron, as though it has been melted and pulled apart like taffy. The curling iron continues up until it curls back into itself, weaving in and out amongst the other curls, giving it the cage-like effect. The flames are visible in the gaps between and rising slightly above. They are obscured only at the bottom, so it is impossible to tell what is burning, if it is wood or coal or something else entirely.”

Morgenstern intersperses short sensory passages like that throughout the novel, but she writes all of her scenes in a similarly opulent way. At first I was a bit put off by this seemingly over-verbose writing, and in a few places it sort of gets away from Morgenstern, but in general she makes it work fantastically and it is absolutely my favorite aspect of the book. I really want to get my hands on the audiobook so that this writing and Jim Dale’s voice can make beautiful babies in my brain.


If you’re more of a story person, I’m not sure you’ll be as enamored with the book; the plot is fairly simple, starts off quite slow, and ends abruptly AND with a not-declared-as-such-but-it-totally-is-and-can’t-deny-it epilogue, but though I found myself saying more than once “If this goes one step farther I’m calling shenanigans,” the book managed never to take that step, at least by my measurements.

I wrote on Twitter the other night that “I’ve read through the last page of The Night Circus, but I’m certainly not finished with it…” and that holds true today. I spent more than a week reading this book not because I didn’t have time to devour it in one sitting but because I didn’t want to. I wanted to savor that writing and put off leaving the circus as long as possible. And I’m not kidding about the audiobook. My library doesn’t have it yet but when they do, you’ll be seeing another post about The Night Circus right here.

Recommendation: If you like shiny pretty things or magic or clown-less circuses, you’ll probably be happy here.

Rating: 9/10
(RIP Challenge, A to Z Challenge)

13 thoughts on “The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

  1. Steph says:

    I'm not one for circuses (I think I'm the only blogger out there who hasn't read Water For Elephants), but everything else I've read about this book leads me to believe that I'd probably like it quite a lot. I LOVE when you find a book that absorbs you so much that you stretch out your reading of it so that it can last as long as possible. They don't come around often, but when they do, it's the best feeling in the world.

  2. dooliterature says:

    I have this on hold at the library, too, and it has taken foreverrrr to get my copy.
    I cannot wait to read this and your review has gotten me very excited to get my hands on a copy. 🙂

  3. Alison says:

    Steph — I am not touching Water for Elephants with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole, so you are not alone there! And it was so weird to be like, “Gotta go read The Night Circus, gotta read it gotta read it,” and then after a few pages saying, “Gotta stop reading it. Gotta save some for later.” Conflicting messages, brain!

    Anna — Here, I'll return my copy, and then that will make yours come faster! That's how it works, right?

    DesLily — I hope so too! I'm always wary of overly gushy reviews, but sometimes I can't help writing them! It definitely took me a chapter or two to really get into the book, but once I did…

    Kailana — Yay! I am very content to love this book. 🙂

  4. Cari says:

    Ha! I knew you would like it. Can I call it or what. And like I said in my blog, it's nowhere near Water for Elephants. Not even close.

    I felt the same way about the writing. At first it was a bit too verbose, but eventually I sank into it. And I could not read it quickly either. I felt like I was savoring a rich dessert.

    I am surprised that you described the plot as straightforward though. Maybe in my old age, it is becoming harder for me to follow things. I hope not. I still have to get a damn book published and I would rather it not be See Spot Run.

  5. Alison says:

    Cari — I never said straightforward. 🙂 It definitely took me a bit to realize that I really needed to read the dateline on each chapter! I just mean it's a simple plot to comprehend, you know, star-crossed lovers and whatnot as opposed to, like, trying to figure out what Jasper Fforde is on about in any of his books.

  6. Jaclyn says:

    I can't even finish this review b/c the very first line of it makes me want to hug you. When I finish a book I LOOOOOVE, I often feel the urge (and often act on the urge) to hug it tight. And squeeze it. Like if I do so tight enough, I can press it into me. It sounds reeeeally crazy — unless you've felt that before, and then it's like, “Well, yeah. Duh.”

  7. Jaclyn says:

    Jim Dale does the audiobook??? He of the does-a-better-Hermione-than-Emma-Watson Jim Dale???? OK … so what you're saying is, I should listen to this?

  8. Alison says:

    Jaclyn — Aw, I accept your internet hug! I will pass it on to some very good books. 🙂 And, I mean, if you love The Jim Dale Experience, I would say there's no way you could go wrong listening to The Night Circus!

  9. redhead says:

    Just finished this book earlier this evening, and I see what you mean when you said you finished it, but you're not done with it!

    I hate to call it a circus book, or a book about magicians, because that makes it sound hokey. and it's not any of those things, but it is very, very magical.

  10. Alison says:

    Andrea — I was like, where is your comment, and then I was like, wow, this post is so old I had to moderate it! And, yeah, I was trying to recommend it at my book club the other day and I was like, “Well, it's set at the circus, obviously, but it's, like, a cool circus, but it's not really about the circus it's about the senses of the circus, and…” I was not very eloquent about it! It's so much easier to be like, this is good, go read it. 🙂

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