I didn’t expect to love this one. There was so much hype, so many people loving it. I expected to get it from the library, read a few pages, and return it unread, simply due to my history of not really loving the books everyone else seems to love. I was wrong, though. The Night Circus swept me into its world immediately, and by the time I finished reading, it had joined the (very short) list of my favorite books of the year.
There are a whole lot of ways that books can really get to me. Sometimes I’m touched by beautiful writing. Sometimes it’s great storytelling. Occasionally a book changes the way I think or live. I can be affected by the depth of a book, or by its emotional impact. And periodically, the overriding factor in my love for a book is atmosphere or tone: Notes on a Scandal. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Catch-22. The Grapes of Wrath. Anything by Kafka.
The Night Circus is one of these books. Now, it was amazing on many levels – brilliant storytelling, exquisite writing, etc – but where it really shone for me was in tone. I don’t see all that many tone-oriented books in modern writing. Note that the above list only includes one book written less than 50 years ago. I’ve searched and searched for modern atmospheric books, and sometimes I’ll find one that attempts it, but it’s rare to find a modern book that does it well. The Night Circus is an exception. Its atmosphere and tone were perfect.
There are a lot of wonderful things about The Night Circus. I will not discuss the plot at all, not even a summary. There is too much in this book to try to condense into a few sentences, and I’ve honestly seen too many reviews around that semi-spoil the book by trying to summarize. The story itself is intricate and multifaceted. You hear about authors weaving their stories together, but it’s not like weaving, usually. Most authors braid their stories, intertwining a small handful of elements together into a cohesive whole. The Night Circus, on the other hand, is genuinely woven into something beautiful, something far more complex than the average book.
I can’t say just how much this book impressed me. As a writer myself, each of the elements that go into creating a book are important to me, and there is nothing lacking in any of them here. The characters are real and incredibly well-rounded. No one is fully good or bad, and there are no flat extras that people the background. The imagery is every bit as beautiful as the story and atmosphere. The story is timeless and archetypal, but also unique and new in this incarnation. Then there’s the fact that you become part of the story itself – you, the reader. It’s a rare author who can pull off second-person point of view, but Morgenstern does it.
All of these elements, just like the bits of story, are woven into the tapestry that is The Night Circus. I finished it with one primary thought in my head: This is more than a book. It’s an experience. One I want to experience many times.
Note: Reread in September 2013 & October 2018. (Also by audio in 2012, with dedicated post.)