I picked up Erin Morgenstern's debut novel on the strength of a mesmerizing excerpt that started out: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.” Dramatic, is it not? The first part of the book continues in this vein, telling the story of how the le Cirque des Rêves comes to be and detailing how it’s connected to a contest between a pair of mysterious star-crossed magicians. It’s easily the most entertaining part of the novel.
But like a dull superhero with a fascinating origin story, the novel rapidly loses steam after the circus opens. A love story emerges, but despite Morgenstern's best efforts, it lacks passion. You read many, many descriptions of the Night Circus' fantastical attractions, including an ice castle, an elaborate labyrinth, a room filled with scents that transport you to different places in time, impossibly intricate clocks, and so on. Taken in isolation, some of them do indeed transport you into another place; taken together, they all meld together so that no one scene really distinguishes itself. The result is a perfect circus, effortlessly pulled together, with no failures or picture of the sweat and blood that must have occurred behind the scenes. The circus is like a diamond without flaws, and you walk around it, vaguely stunned by its shiny perfection, but kind of bored because of the lack of drama in it all. It's capped off by a rather predictable ending.
This came off more negatively than I meant, but all in all, while The Night Circus was a diverting read, it never lived up to the promise of the beginning. Here's hoping Morgenstern can keep her momentum next time!
Cross Posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox.