On the surface, The Night Circus seems like a book I’d love. It’s got some magic, a historical setting, a nonlinear structure, beautiful writing, and is heavy on description. But, is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
Seriously, if I have to read one more long-winded description of a circus act, I’m going to lose my mind.
The Night Circus follows a group of characters who set up a magic circus. Two of these characters, Marco and Celia, are illusionists who have been trained since birth for a competition that will take place between them, but life becomes messy when they fall in love and try to end the competition.
“Most maidens are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves in my experience, at least the ones worth something, in any case.” - The Night Circus
This is one of those books that leave you in awe of the writing. The author is massively talented and has a big imagination. Even though there is too much description, this book has the richest imagery I’ve come across in a long time. I actually reread pages because the writing is so detailed and atmospheric, and I wanted to know how the author did it.
But, I think the mysterious atmosphere turned out to be a double-edged sword. The atmosphere held my interest, but in order to create it, the author has to keep the reader very distant from the characters. The characters always know more than the reader, and we’re not allowed into their heads very often. I never felt like I knew them or connected with them. I never got invested in their lives.
The characters are kept mysterious, and the plot is, too. Actually, the book doesn’t have much of a plot. It meanders from event to event. Even the competition between Marco and Celia isn’t as suspenseful as the synopsis makes it seem. For most of the novel, the reader doesn’t know the stakes or rules of the contest. We’re expected to go along with what’s happening without knowing the reasons behind it.
The competition actually turns out to be kind of anticlimactic. There’s no head-to-head duel or dramatic action scenes. Basically, Marco and Celia have to keep making the circus bigger and more extravagant until one of them becomes exhausted and can’t do it anymore. They have to keep trying to out-pretty each other. Since magic can be done from a distance, Celia and Marco aren’t even on the same continent for most of the story.
“I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held. Trying to control what cannot be controlled. I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.” – The Night Circus
I also questioned why the story is set in the late 1800s/early 1900s. I’m not a history expert, but some of the small details seem wrong, and the characters don’t observe the social etiquette of the time. The setting adds mystery, but it also distracted me.
I think the synopsis might be misleading because readers can interpret it in different ways. If you like slow-paced literary fiction with beautiful writing, then you’ll love this book. If you go into it expecting a fantasy story with bold characters and a lot of action, then you’ll probably find it flat and lacking suspense.
This book didn’t give me everything I wanted, but the writing kept me happily reading.
“I couldn't tell the difference between what was real and what I wanted to be real.” – The Night Circus