Book Review: The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern


I found Morgenstern’s The Night Circus to be a difficult, tedious read. In a general sense of the word, this is not particularly unusual for yours truly, given that I spent three years studying English at University – which involved, for the blissfully uninitiated among you – studying many tedious books, beginning with Dickens and ending with…Dickens. Again. But it is unusual in the sense that this was a book I picked to read for myself – shock, horror – on the basis of several glowing recommendations, no less, not one that I was told to read and wrote an essay on (reluctantly).

I was, ultimately, disappointed, and if you’re picturing Professor McGonagall looking down at someone over her glasses, then you’re on the right track of imagining how I felt. (Albeit with less magical awesome and more study sessions and caffeine-based over-indulgences).

As for why (onwards, to the nitty-gritty)…

Bogged down in endless descriptions of said circus – which were, for the record, only fun the first couple of times – I struggled to find evidence of the alleged plot, despite the fact that it had been given clear prominence at the beginning of the novel – the ongoing, shady competition, as established by two equally shady men – and that the two main characters appear regularly, frequently engaged in some action or another that is supposed to, in the long run, increase or improve their chances. That said, those regular appearances often struck me as ‘dates’ – with the addition of vaguely obnoxious magic – so I don’t think I can really be blamed for missing the point. Thus, with little else moving the action along except a predictable and ultimately tedious romance or two, I soon grew bored. The Night Circus is comprised of deliciously vivid visual imagery, and in possession of a gloriously imaginative premise, but as a novel with a given plot, it simply does not work.


The chapters that had seemingly been used to further the plot came sprinkled far too lightly within many other chapters that seemed to intend the exact opposite, and the end result felt confused and unsure of itself, lacking a discernible identity. While I am by no means opposed to novels that defy boundaries and conventions, combining and blurring genres to masterful effect, I am opposed to novels that fail in that endeavor, albeit not in a way that will require me to officially protest in any sort of active capacity (visiting the gym twice a week is more than enough, thank-you).

Additionally (isn’t it amazing how one word can call forth so many essay-writing memories?), I felt that the aforementioned shady competition was just too predictable, given the inclusion of two men with a history of antagonising each other for some mysterious – not to mention nefarious – reason, and the fact that the hopeful participants were both kept deliberately in the dark, like the people mentioned in every fictional prophecy ever. Hence: predictable.


I liked practically every character – which is very unusual for me, as I ordinarily latch onto a side character, inevitably the sarcastic one – but I found the majority of them to be more or less lacking definition. The main characters have distinctive, realistic personalities, but that’s not the case across the board, and I found that to be frustrating, inhibiting my ability to become immersed in the fictional world of the Circus.

Final Comments:

The Night Circus has many fine, impressive qualities, qualities that I’m sure that many people like. But I am not one of those people – which I hope you knew already, given the tone of the above discussion – and I was happy to reach the end of this novel. I’m glad I read it – glad I threw myself into new genre – but ultimately I had to move on.