Book Review: ‘The Night Circus’ by Erin Morgenstern

The story of Le Cirque des Rêves is magical and fantastic, drawing the reader into a world of illusion, mystery, and wonder. It is a story full of contrasts: light and dark, reality and illusion, cold and heat,  truth and deceit, life and death. Richly imaginative and sensory, the story is absolutely captivating. Yet at its very heart is a secret so cold and dark that it doesn’t even seem to be compatible with such a wonderful tale.  

While the lines and boundaries are blurred, and morality is highly subjective, the reader is drawn strongly to certain characters: Celia and Marco, Poppet, Widget and Bailey, and becomes deeply invested in their stories. 

I loved the story concept, the settings and the characters. I very much enjoyed the clever Shakespearean references, some of which were very obvious while others were much more subtle and covert, possibly going undetected by readers less familiar with the works of the Bard. 

However, I was frustrated by two aspects of the book. Not only was the plot development very slow… and I do mean  s  l  o  w, I found the author’s regular forays into writing overtly in second person incredibly annoying and distracting, particularly in conjunction with present tense. Was this story set at a series of specific points in history,  as the dates at the beginning of chapters suggested, or was it happening right now? Either way, I’m perfectly certain I am not, nor was I ever, actually there. When I encountered this on the second page, it was so jarring that I almost put the book down for god, thinking the whole narrative might be like that. 

Never one to quit a book early, I kept going. The story was good enough for me to almost manage to forget while reading that the writing is in present tense, but the second person perspective interrupted the flow of the narrative and broke my concentration every single time.  I understand that the intent was to immerse the reader into the story, but it actually had the opposite effect on me, and it happened far too often for me to easily forgive. 

As a result, the book left me with mixed feelings and wondering if I was being petty because I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. I know it’s very much a matter of personal taste, and I’m glad I persisted with it, but I can’t deny that I am disappointed. As a lover of fantasy, magical stories, and dark fiction, this should have been everything I wanted in a book, but it wasn’t. 

As the old saying goes, it’s a fine line between love and hate. I find myself standing on that very line, still unsure of which way to fall.