The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

Five words from the blurb: circus, dark, dazzling, world, imaginative  

About six weeks ago a beautiful book dropped through my letter box. I knew nothing about it, but was immediately impressed by the design and the quotes on the cover. Out of curiosity I read the first page and became so hooked that I ended up reading about 150 pages right then and there. Since then The Night Circus seems to have exploded across the Internet. The hype for this book has been phenomenal and I’m quite pleased that I read it on its own merit, before being influenced by the hundreds of reviews already out there. I can see why so many people love this book, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to add a few words to of caution to the piles of praise. This book is very good, but it isn’t perfect.

The Night Circus is a mysterious black and white circus that appears in towns and cities around the world. Open only at night this “Circus of Dreams” contains a magical array of entertainment, with each tent containing more surprising items than the last. The book crosses into the world of magical realism with the acts portrayed, but the incredibly visual descriptions means that this works really well. I am sure that the Night Circus will instantly jump to the top of most readers “places in literature you want to visit” list.

“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Reves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”

The main problem with this book is that the setting is so strong it swamps everything else. The characters and plot struggle to make themselves noticed against the stunning backdrop of the circus. This meant that by the half way point the book began to run out of steam. The blurb describes magicians battling with each other and I kept thinking of the amazing book, The Prestige, which makes the twists and turns in The Night Circus look insignificant.

The majority of the characters also failed to come alive. They felt like props in the circus rather than real people and so I failed to form a connection to them. This meant that the romance aspect of the novel wasn’t convincing and I became bored by their interactions.

I’m sure that this book will dominate the end of year favourite lists and I do think it will go on to become a modern day classic, but I’m afraid I need a bit more than an amazing setting to keep me entertained.  Despite my criticisms I recommend that you read this book – your life will be richer for having read about the “Circus of Dreams” and the ability to re-imagine the magical circus displays will surely add to the quality of your own dreams.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…..the world that Morgenstern builds is so vivid that you can smell the caramel and popcorn in the air,  and so immediately appealing that I would happily spend my life wandering the circus, visiting tent after tent, lost in its secrets.   Fyrefly’s Book Blog

……there just isn’t enough quality in the writing to satisfy and however impressive the fireworks feel at the time there’s a great feeling of disappointment once the smoke clears and the soggy architecture is all that remains. Just William’s Luck

The Night Circus is about a world filled with unexpected magic, and Morgenstern uses it to hint at the magic we might find in our world if we were just open to seeing it. The Book Lady’s Blog



46 replies on “The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern”

I just read THE PRESTIGE and I’ve been worried that THE NIGHT CIRCUS would pale in comparison. I’ll probably read it sometime soon but I’m in no hurry. Thanks for this review.

Marie, Yes, The Prestige is an outstanding book and is one of my all-time favourites. The Night Circus had a few similarities, but lacked the amzing twists and turns of The Prestige. I wouldn’t read them too close together if I were you.

I’m glad to get a more measured review of this one! I am hoping to read it soon, but I fear the more good things about a book I hear the more skeptical I become. I still think this one will make a lovely airplane read this weekend, but I’m curious to see where I fall on the spectrum of love for it.

Carrie, Yes – I think this would be the perfect read when travelling. It has lots of atmosphere, but doesn’t have a confusing plot for you to keep track of. I look forward to seeing where on the spectrum you end up. 🙂

sakura, There is a lot to like in this book, but if I hadn’t read it in advance I think I’d be waiting for the paperback to appear in the library – too much hype can lead to disappointment 🙁 I hope you enjoy it when you eventually get around to it.

The reviews of this book have just been insane! And now I’m afraid my expectations are going to hurt me. Still, I did take notice when EW gave it a B, and said (as you did) that the characterization takes a back seat to the enchantments. I can’t wait to read it, nevertheless!

Sandy, It is interesting to know that EW gave this a B. I really should pay attention to what they say as I seem to be in agreement with them a surprising amount of the time.

I had the complete opposite reaction to the plot and characters. I was impressed at how alive all the characters were, even the extras in the background, and I was beyond impressed at the way the plot was woven together. From a writer’s perspective, the book was fantastic, and it definitely made my top books of the year.

Amanda, I wonder if this is one of those books that people have different reactions to depending on whether or not they’ve read The Prestige? I found the plot similar, but simpler than The Prestige and so I was therefore disappointed by it.

I agree that all the characters were vividly described, but although I can picture them I don’t understand their motivations or emotions as I haven’t had enough insight into their lives. I guess it is all down to the type of book you like, but I prefer to have a deeper emotional connection to them.

It would be a dull world if we all liked the same things 🙂

As I said in my review, this will be a marmite book. Fortunately for me it satisifed me entireley (and no, I don’t like marmite) and transported me to another world infinitely more interesting than the one I occupy at the moment! 😉

I’ve seen conflicting reviews about this — atmosphere vs. character. The atmosphere was enough for me as the slightly flat characters seemed like something out of a fable.

Great review, Jackie!

Andi, Treating this book as a fable is a very good way of looking at it. I hadn’t thought of it like that and can see why the characters could work like that. Fables usually have a good plot though….

This sounds, pardon the pun, magical! I’m not sure about characters being swamped by the set up but if the set up is worth it then I can see how it could be overlooked. Although it was the film rather than the book, I enjoyed The Prestige very much so any comparison there is intriguing.

Charlie, The good news is that The Prestige film/book have slightly different plots and so it is possible to read/watch one straight after the other without ruining the experience (it’s what I did!)

I’m expecting a copy of this book as I won it recently (yay!). It sounds like the idea of the circus is great but the story around it doesn’t hold up completely. It’s a pity, but I will take your advice and find out for myself.

Lot of marketing/PR going into this one – it’s even at every cash register in Chapters-Indigo these days. When I first saw it my first thought was how the title sounded so much like Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, which I loved – completely different story of course. I thought I might get this when it comes out in paperback but now I’m not so sure… Still dithering.

But how embarrassing, I didn’t know The Prestige was a book! One you’d recommend, by the sounds of it?

Shannon, I think there are a lot of similarities between this book and Nights at the Circus, but The Night Circus doesn’t have the literary depth of Carter’s book. I’m betting Morgenstern is a big fan of Angela Carter and if you are a fan then I’m sure you’ll enjoy spotting all the references to her book.

And yes – I highly recommend The Prestige – it is in my all time top 10.

I have a copy, autographed by the author, and can’t wait to read it. I will probably wait until all the hype dies down since I never seem to like to read what everyone else is reading.

This does seem to be the “it” book right now. I’ve seen nothing but raves. But every time I read the description, I just don’t feel interested. I suppose I’ll give in eventually though.

Jenners, If the description doesn’t interest you then I’d avoid it. I think this is a marmite book and those persuaded to read it by hype alone may be disappointed.

Diane, A lot of my favourite novels are debuts so I don’t think they deserve any special classification, but I will be interested to read any further books she writes as she clearly has a natural talent for world building.

I’m still waiting to read this one. I have my copy on my shelf but with all the reviews exploding all over, I’m hesitant to read it right away. The Night Circus’ setting is the most talked about in a lot of its reviews, so I’m glad to see you talk a bit about the characters, which is the most important aspect for me. I’ll keep your review in mind when I eventually read this book.

Oh I honestly have been intrigued by the book. Partly because of all the hype, partly because of the circus setting. But if you think The Prestige is even better, I might read that one first. I’ve got The Prestige a short while ago from Oxfam 🙂

I’m actually glad to read reviews like yours and Wallace’s that tone down the general raving around this one. I’ve had too many disappointments because of hypes.

On another note: I loves The Prestige (the movie) so much, why didn’t I ever think about reading the book?! Thanks for the tip.

Alex, I’ve been disappointed by a lot of hyped books too, but I always feel I have to read them eventually – just to be sure I’m not missing out on something.

I hope you enjoy reading The Prestige – the plot is a bit different in the book so you don’t need to worry about knowing the twists already 🙂

I got this book after all the hype and I must say I’m actually really looking forward to it. I’m glad to read yours though – it’s tempered my enthusiasm some, which will probably lead to me actually liking the book more!

I haven’t read The Prestige, though I think I have it kicking around somewhere. I’m almost glad I’m reading this first.

Meghan, I think you might be right about reading The Night Circus first. You’ll probably enjoy it a lot more without the magnificance of The Prestige spoiling things. I look forward to your thoughts!

anothercookiecrumbles, I’m sure that Morgenstern was influenced by Carter’s book and I think you’ll enjoy spotting the similarities between the two. I hope you enjoy both books.

This one appeared in my mailbox a while back, too, but I didn’t get to it before all the hype started. I’ll still read it, but I always get worried when I pick up a universally beloved book, since my expectations usually end up being way too high. I’m glad to read your thoughts, since every review that says something other than “this book is amazing!!!!” helps adjust my expectations back down to realistic levels 🙂

Erin, I often find it difficult to read a hyped book too. The problem I find is that I seem to have a different reading taste to the majority ans so I tred with caution towards universally loved books. I hope you enjoy it when you get round to reading it.

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