Monday, July 18, 2016

Reflections: The Night Circus

The Night Circus is a book that wanted so badly to be great but never quite got there. In fact, I wanted it to be great. I wanted Ray Bradbury—phantasmagorical, reality imbued with fantasy, seemingly effortless profundity. Alas, The Night Circus is not that book, no matter how hard it tried.

The book's imagery is at times striking, even evocative, but the story lacks consistency. Centering around a competition or duel established at the beginning of the book, the story meanders from scene to scene only occasionally addressing the central plot element. Yet, as if remembering why words were being put to paper, the author quickly and somewhat clumsily re-focuses the narrative during the last quarter of the book. As the story comes to a conclusion and as the characters find their closure, the overarching meanings feel a bit obtuse, and I was left wondering what the real purpose was and why I should care. (I had similar feelings after completing The Westing Game).

I have a propensity to enjoy books like The Night Circus. Something Wicked This Way Comes, for example, is one of my favorite books. I love stories that embrace hyper-reality—facts colliding gently and sometimes harshly with fiction. The Prestige is another example of a book and eventual film—yet another one dealing with magic and entertainment—that embraces fact and fiction and interweaves them together. The Night Circus in some ways does a wonderful job of cradling reality and fantasy, but it stumbles in other ways.

Having said all of that, The Night Circus does have a menagerie of interesting characters. The magical pull of the circus can be felt through the book's pages. It's a place I'd like to visit, to be, to experience. Mystery permeates basically every page of the book, albeit the resolution is inadequate. The book excels in its exhibition of imagination. Like any good fantasy, the new sights, sounds, and smells should intrigue and capture the reader. The Night Circus at times was captivating.

I wish there was more to recommend The Night Circus; yet, I feel the book is more feigned style than it is genuine substance. As a concept, the story has a lot for me to love, and visually I think a talented filmmaker could do something pretty special. The Night Circus frequently skirts the edge of greatness but never actually crosses the line. It's a shame because I really, really wanted it to.

Other Topics of Interest:
Reflections: The Westing Game
Ray Bradbury & Me
Books to Movies: The Prestige


  1. This is interesting because I loved this book. I can tell we looked at it from different angles though. Personally, I thought the plot centered around the romance between the two characters with the circus being merely the arena and the background. It was a beautiful romance, very tastefully done, giving the reader the overall feeling of their growing connection and conflict without all the gorey details so to speak. But you haven't mentioned the romantic aspect at all in your review :) I think to discount that from this book is to strip it of what makes it so well received. I am still constantly searching for other books that combine the fantasy genre with a slight romance that will give me the feeling this book did, and I'm constantly disappointed.