This review is also available on my blog, Stumptown Books
Let's talk about hype machines. They're annoying, right? No one likes being inundated with the same images and catch phrases over and over again. But somehow it works, and hype makes money and wins awards for things that sometimes just don't deserve it. Hype is a fickle beast. Too much of it, and there is so much ground to make up it's almost impossible to reach my expectations. Not enough of it, and I think, "There must be a reason why no one has read this book/seen this movie," and it will have extra ground to make up as well. What a horrible knife edge to walk for all the things I consume! And I know that is not an uncommon occurrence; it's why we can talk about a piece of media as being "underrated" or "overrated."The Night Circus
, unfortunately, falls into the "overrated" category.
I first heard about it from the Goodreads Choice Awards last year and it feels like I haven't stopped seeing it since. Everyone on my friend's list was reading it, it showed up at Costco, and Powell's had it on display right in front of the store screaming "Buy me! Buy me!" I succumbed and was soon flipping pages (well, clicking pages) feverishly as the premise drew me in.
Let me start off with saying that I have issues with second person narration. It is the hardest narration to use, and use seriously, and in this case I really did not like it. I can see that Ms. Morgernstern was trying to show us the wonders of the circus. She wanted us to breathe the smells (caramel and wood smoke) and revel in the sights (black and white), but it only accomplished the exact opposite, by taking me completely out of the story. There are probably only 6 or 7 chapters utilizing this narrative form, but that was 6 or 7 too many. Especially the last chapter; I groaned so hard my cat woke up to glare at me. The imagery is imaginative, but by using the second person, the soul was completely taken out of it. However, the use of third person present for the entire rest of the book did not bug me, as it seems to have bugged many others. I didn't even notice it after a while.
With that said, the first 50 pages inexorably drew me in. By the time I had finished the book, I realized the first 50 pages were the best part. The author had so many good ideas that I soon felt bombarded with them, but none had a satisfactory pay off. I loved the idea of a contest, until the reason for it was revealed. Then it was very slowly
made apparent that nothing exciting was going to happen with the contest. A good love story is always nice, but there's not even a reason revealed for that, besides endless repetitions of "I love you." The book was simply too long for how little of interest occurred.
If you have a soft spot for circuses, or went a lot as a child, there might be some enjoyment simply from nostalgia. I don't, and my enjoyment was minimal.