The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
First review posted October 12, 2011. Updated review posted May 23, 2012.This book was probably my biggest literary disappointment of 2011. Once I found out that it wasn't YA I was so excited to read it only to be let down in a massive, cartoon-balloon-popping-and-dragging-the-character-all-over-the-room sort of way. I think you can see the embodiment of that in my status updates.The circus itself was amazing and the only real redeeming value to this book. I wanted so badly for it to be real. Morgenstern does an amazing job of painting vivid imagery. She creates atmosphere and excitement and draws you into the sights, sounds, and tastes of the circus. I still think I can taste that caramel corn. Part of this was accomplished through short, second-person narration, intermission-like chapters (the primary narrative is in third-person). Even though I detest POV changes with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, and detest second-person with the same fervor, this is the one of the few compliments I have for the book. I actually like what she did with the second-person. It's the one time I've seen it utilized where it makes sense and the whole purpose of bringing you into the experience is warranted and well executed. Still, with all of the above being true, I still don't think there was enough description of the tents of the circus. They were mentioned constantly but very few were described, and even then not always in full. There weren't many where I thought I had the complete concept of the tent visualized, and considering how important they were to the "competition" it seemed like a huge oversight to me.The biggest problem with this book is the complete lack of plot. Morgenstern quite obviously had the visual of the night circus but then realized that there probably needed to be something to fill the 350 other pages so she slapped something together. Nothing of the magic is explained. Like how the magicians can live seemingly forever or how, if the magic doesn't have to be innate talent, it is actually taught to a child. Nothing of the competition is really explained other than these two old, terrible, crazy-ass men binding two unwitting children to a competition to the death. And when, after 20 years or so, we get to the competition it's creating tents and displaying magic at the circus that pops up overnight. Marco is never even with the circus. Ever. Not only can magic be taught, but it can be done long-distance! Yes, this book actually telecommutes magic.The synopsis leads you to believe it's going to be this amazing duel of magic but it's entirely off screen and completely passive. Neither Marco nor Celia even know who their competitor is and it takes forever for them to figure it out since they aren't ever together until about 50% through the book for a brief evening. The story dances around the incredibly obvious end of the competition until about 70% of the way in even though the synopsis pretty much just tells you outright. And it doesn't matter since you would figure it out the first time the question is asked anyway. There's no reason as to why it has to end this way. There's no explanation as to how they can get there. Even the characters ask numerous times and the answer is always "you'll see." Guess what . . . WE NEVER FREAKING SEE. I want to pull my hair out thinking of how bored and frustrated I was seven months ago. There were all these different characters who maybe held some sort of importance but more often than not they didn't. At least their purpose never really became apparent. It seemed like an effort to be mysterious that ended up being nonsensical. They were all one-dimensional. For instance, something that really bothered me: when Celia found out that her father bound her at the age of six to this competition she was like, 'Oh. See you later.' I was expecting outrage, cutting him off completely, something. Oh God, these characters were so flat! We're only given the most superficial information on all of them, even Marco and Celia who were, ostensibly, the leads of this book. However, there was one exception, a patron of the circus named Bailey. For some reason this random child in Massachusetts that had nothing to do with the circus whatsoever had the most most detailed background and just as much "screen" time in the book. And there is absolutely no reason for why his story is given so much time. I kept saying that he better be someone incredibly important to the circus in the end. He really wasn't. Yes, he ends up being the center of the circus, but there is absolutely no reason why it's him other than he was there. Even Celia says he's basically nobody who happened to be there at the right time. They could have grabbed anyone visiting the circus and it wouldn't have made a difference. So it made no sense as to why so much of the book was spent on him and we didn't get to know any of the characters important to the circus during the time in which we're reading their story. Marco and Celia develop a wicked case of insta-love and we're supposed to buy that this changes everything. Except there was no character development. At all. Nothing changes. As soon as you think something will happen the chapter ends. And then jumps anywhere from a few months to several years in the future. There are points where it seems like something big is about to happen and then the story jumps and it appears absolutely nothing happened in between the two points in time. It's like they went into suspended animation during the intervening time period. For instance, from what I could gather, Marco had been with this one girl for a long time, like a decade a long time. It was hard to tell, the story jumped around so much. He fell in love with Celia and they pledged to be together, and then . . . [CHAPTER END]. [CHAPTER BEGINNING] Three years later… Marco: 'Oh, I should probably talk to Isobel about being with Celia.' What. In. The. Hell? So not only were they able to maintain a three year relationship even with all of the problems posed to them, and how they do this is never explained, but on top of that Marco is now this super-jerk who leads this other woman on for years? You probably think I'm exaggerating. I'm really not. Basically, the book reads like a series of vignettes strung together through the circus. In the beginning they seemed to have no real connection. At the end, even though they are connected through tenuous story lines, there are no real conclusions, no real explanations, just, 'well, this happened.' I honestly cannot explain what happened at the end of the book. The status of certain characters and what it means for their futures completely eludes me. I don't think I ever will understand. It all made for a pretty, imaginary place with nothing to fill it.This is definitely one of those books that falls under "love it or hate it." Reviews for it vary wildly. I've talked to a lot of people about this book and the general theme I've found with those who love it is that they agree there is no plot but they're so entranced by the circus itself that they are fine with building a story for it themselves. Generally the type of person who does well with cliffhanger, finish-the-story-in-your-head endings. That is definitely not me. I end up thinking, "you're the one writing the book, why do I have to do all the work?! If I wanted to do that I'd write my own book!" So I didn't enjoy having to wade through massive confusion and half-ass story construction even though it was surrounded by pretty imagery. My disappointment was so great that, to this day, every time I see this book I scowl at it like it wronged my family.For those laboring under the misconception that this is YA, be advised: this is far from it. I truly don't understand how anyone could think that it is. The author herself said that it is not.Lucy's review is still the best review. Even writing it out I haven't come close to articulating as well as she did the problems with this book.