Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus," or, The Point of Nanowrimo is to spend time revising



Great premise, incredibly sloppy writing.


My experience with Night Circus leaves me very hesitant to recommend it. While I ultimately enjoyed the novel, readers with more cutthroat instincts will probably abandon this movie 20 pages in, as I very nearly did.

The first quarter of the book goes on and on with long descriptive passages that barely even serve the purpose of exposition, and certainly don't pay off later in the novel. Had the initial premise not been so compelling, I definitely would not have continued. Morgenstern shifts from perspective to perspective, leaping back and forth in time in a manner that precludes any connection with the characters or with any particular storyline.

I thought then, and I still think now, "Was the editor drunk?"

When the novel finally became engaging (right at the 26% point!), it struck me that the previous 1/4 of the novel could have easily been summed up in a few paragraphs, and those paragraphs could have worked to serve character instead of just sitting there, static on the page.

In case you don't believe me about the dull, flat writing:

"The first to arrive (after the pianist, already playing) is Mme. Ana Padva, a retired Romanian prima ballerina who had been dear friends with Chandresh's mother. He called her Tante Padva as a child, and continues to do so to this day. She is a stately woman, the grace of a dancer still visible through her advanced age, along with her impeccable sense of style. Her sense of style is the primary reason she is invited this evening. She is a fiend for aesthetics with an eye for fashion that is both unique and coveted, and provides her with a sizable income since her retirement from the ballet."

It's not even grammatically correct! Allow me to use Morgenstern's own words against her:

"The goings-on of the circus are dutifully reported, but with such matter-of-fact precision that he cannot picture it in the richness of detail that he desires."

If only.

But then things improve. Once we become more involved in the intricacies of the circus itself, the book transforms into something far more magical. There are plot holes galore and the finale is vaguely disappointing (I say vaguely because what happens isn't precisely clear), but there's much to recommend about it. The characters finally come alive, and the romance in the novel feels real and adult, which is unusual for a young adult novel.

But Morgenstern never overcomes the lack of trust in her writing ability. Typos and occasionally grammatical mistakes are fine, but this novel felt incredibly sloppy in so many ways. It doesn't even feel like a first draft, it feels like the regurgitations a writer makes that is then shaped into a first draft. There are diamonds in the rough, but it's up to you whether you feel like digging through.

You're not going to hear me say this often: I can't wait to see this made into a movie. I guarantee that even the worst screenwriter will cut the fluff and improve the story.

Have you read Night Circus? What did you think?

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19 Responses to “ Erin Morgenstern's "The Night Circus," or, The Point of Nanowrimo is to spend time revising ”

  1. Oh, it's such a shame that it's so sloppily written, because it's an awesome concept! That first quote made my eyes glaze over. I'm disappointed!

  2. I haven't read the book, but I like that first passage you quoted quite a bit.  I found it elegant, hypnotic and evocative.  The way a small detail casually falls out of each sentence completely changing the scene in your mind adds a richness to the scene and gives you the sensation of catching something out of the corner of you eye and wondering whether that thing has always been there or has simply appeared by magic.

  3. Haven't read this one, but have, of course, read many wonderful things about it, so I'll undoubtedly try it at some point. But as is my general bent, I'll likely wait many months until the book has faded from public consciousness before eventually picking it up... Why be five minutes late to the party when you can be several months tardy? ;)

    (Also, perhaps within context that snippet you posted wouldn't be so troublesome, but I personally found the tense all wrong and the paragraph was difficult to follow as a result.)

  4. yeah the tenses are generally all over the place, which makes the time jumps doubly confusing.

  5. ah, joker.

  6. Mmm-hmmm about it being made into a movie . . . sometimes I don't like the idea of a book being made into a film, because I don't like seeing anything differently than what  I initially imagined while reading it. (Sometimes I don't care at all, mind you.) But this one has such potential on the big screen.

  7. YES. WITH THE OMG WHERE IS THE POINT BUSINESS. YES. I kept putting it down, remembering the awesome premise, picking it back up, slamming it down, reading a trashy romance where they get to the boning on page 6 just to placate my need for forward motion, picking Night Circus back up...until I was finally 35% into it and things got fun and magical. Maybe we are like...Night Circus twinsies.

  8.  I liked the story but the time jumps made me crazy. And many of them were unnecessary. There was no indication as to place and time other than the heading at the beginning of the chapter.

  9. I was also disappointed in the novel, although my reasons are different from yours.  I thought the prose beautiful and some of the descriptions were breathtakingly beautiful, but the plot was flat the whole way through for me.  

    Definitely agree about wanting to see this book made into a movie.  It has the potential to be visually stunning.   

  10. lol. as long as we're not wearing Night Circus onesies.

  11. This book had been on the "to read" list, but now ... in a weird way, the fact that it has unrealized potential makes me want to read it more than if I'd heard it was brilliant.

  12. What a great review! Just reading the title, I had to laugh. I hope your next read is much better. 

  13. Thanks Natasha! I'm reading the Marriage Plot now, so I'm hopeful it will be better :) But as Mark said above, there is a joy in reading imperfect novels sometimes.

  14. You're right! Flawed novels can be great for inspiration.

  15. Let me know what you think when you read it!

  16. THANK YOU!  I thought I done near lost my mind.  Anybody who's anybody is apparently praising this book with 5 stars, but I found myself constantly asking, "Okay, and then???" or "Got it.  Beautiful descriptions.  But where's the substance?"

    PLUS the climax wasn't very much of a climax.  I just didn't care by the end of it why they were fighting, what they were fighting for, why couldn't they find a better way out of it.  And it is supposedly a LOVE STORY!!!  But it was all fizzle and no sizzle.

    It was just so frustrating to find myself nearing the end, but not really rooting for everybody because it just seemed like an elaborate movie set peopled by paper dolls and not living, breathing characters. 

    And this is coming from a gal who really, REALLY wanted to love this book. 

    On the upside, though, I think this will make a great Hollywood movie under the hands of an amazing screenwriter and director. 

  17. In my brief scan of Goodreads, I found that a lot of people felt the same way, actually! You're right, the climax was less of a bang then a fizzle, but I didn't mind so much, because at least the novel had become engaging by that point.
    I really wanted to spend more time with Poppet, Moppet and Bailey, but the novel never quite delivered on that.
    But I'm glad we agree on a future movie :)

  18. Such a shame - it seemed to have such promise!  Oh well, there's no shortage of other books so I'll give this one a miss.
    Thanks for your honest review.
    Lynn :D

  19. I absolutely love this review- so on point about everything- the good and the bad. Another thing that made this novel a lot less good that in could have been is the lack of "grounding"- a term that Morgenstern herelf uses in interviews, yet I think that all the magic in her book is totally lacking in it- the fact that there seem to be absolutely no boundaries for magic (and it kind of feels like everyone is doing it- even though I know there are a great deal of characters who apparently don't) makes it all a bit too much for me, it becomes kind of unspecial (lol, grammar, I don't need it.). It takes away the element of wonder for me at least.
    Anyway, great review!


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