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The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

In 1886, a mysterious travelling circus becomes an international sensation. Open only at night, constructed entirely in black and white, Le Cirque des Revés delights all who wander its circular paths and warm themselves at its bonfire. It comes without warning and go without too, one minute the circus is there in the horizon, another day it is gone.

Although there are acrobats, fortune-tellers and contortionists, the Circus of Dreams is no conventional spectacle. Some tents contain clouds, some ice. The circus seems almost to cast a spell over its aficionados, who call themselves the réveurs – the dreamers. Celia Bowen, the daughter of famous magician Hector Prospero and Marco Alisdair, the reserved assistant of Alexander H, the man in grey suit have set Celia and Marco up to participate in a duel. The last time the duel set against Tsukiko, the contortionist and her opponent, her opponent was reduced to dust.

The Night Circus contains many casts. There is Tsukiko, the contortionist and Herr Frederick Thiessen, the brilliant clockmaker, Isobel the fortune-teller and Marco’s lover, the management and investors of the circus, Chandresh, Mme Padva, Tara and Lainie and Mr Barris, who enjoys a private lavish party after a successful opening of the circus night. The duel is complicated by Marco and Celia’s love relationship. And in Marco’s words, “To win would be worse than losing.” How would they continue their duel without hurting each other?

Fast forward 5 years from the start of the circus, in Concord Massachusetts, a young boy Bailey has accepted a dare and trespass into the circus tent. He met Poppet, one of the Murray twins, whose brother named Widget, and soon struck up a fascination that will last for years.

Soon as both stories come together and the gap between the years are closed, the duel between Celia and Marco is intertwined with Bailey’s fascination with the circus. What would it be?

I can see there have been hypes aplenty surrounding the books. Not that I did before but now I noticed. I got curious about the book and went to the shops and found this absolutely beautiful hardback for £1.50.

Beautiful inner flaps with red bowl hats dotted among white ones

Black paper flap unveiled a red hard cover with a face of a clock

I’m two minds about the book. First let me tell you what works for me.

I love circus and this book brought me back to my childhood experience of watching a circus. The story conjured up vivid images about the circus atmosphere. I am enthralled by the magic of Celia’s act on the circus and I like that every chapter opens up with an introduction to a tent. I read with heartache of Isobel’s unreciprocal love from Marco. I read between the pages to seek for metaphors about pursuing your dreams and the obstacles of attaining it. The prose is simple and engaging. On top of that, I could find a few of favourite passages from the book:

I have seen a great many things that I might once have considered impossible, or unbelievable. I find I no longer have clearly defined parameters for such matters. I choose to do my work to the best of my own abilities, and leave others to their own. – Mr Barris, page 152

You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough. – Celia, page 360

Before you leave, the fortune-teller reminds you that the future is never set in stone. – page 372

And what about the book which did not work for me?

I can’t put my finger on it (or maybe I can) but I perhaps it is because I appeal to reason more than magic realism I find many of the stories and magic frivolous and without any sense of purpose. I agree with Aths to the certain extent that I like my magic explained and I read the whole series of Harry Potter and enjoyed them. I read through third quarter of the book and I was underwhelmed and can only say the last 100 pages attract more of my attention. The Night Circus slips to and fro between the two time periods, but doesn’t come close to the ingenuity of the The Time Traveller’s Wife, which I suspect was why Audrey Niffenegger was asked to commend about the book.

Everything about this book screams “hype” over everything else. The beautiful cover and pages, with dashes of red and red bookmark (how I love them!). Endorsements from Audrey Niffenegger and Tea Obreht (whose book The Tiger’s wife I didn’t think much of). I just feel it all distracted from what a good book should be: memorable characters that readers could invest in and one that makes you think deep and far long after you put down the book. Unfortunately, this book gave me the appearance of style over substance. Give me a book of substance without much style any day and I’ll tell you which one I’d prefer.

Perhaps this would explain why someone would give away such a beautiful book to the charity shop.


Hardback. Publisher: Harvill Secker 2011; Length: 387 pages; Setting: Europe / USA. Source: Own copy. Finished reading at: 31st March 2012.

Read about readers who either love it or didn’t like it:

Aths@reading on a rainy day: I loved the characters that made up this book – there were so many of them with their own independent minds and thoughts, so much so that I did feel disappointed that some of them didn’t have bigger roles. Unfortunately, this is where the book failed – the characters become a pawn to the plot. In trying to the move the story to the conclusion, the characters that don’t matter to the story anymore get sidelined.

Chinoiseries: I particularly like the fact that the game is not simply about showing off to one another, but how it also challenges the players to carry responsibility for the repercussions of their actions on their playing board and in the outside world. People are not pawns and teachers are not always right. Everybody counts and every loss is mourned. The Night Circus is a beautiful reverie with nightmarish moments, from which you don’t really want to wake up.

Judith@leeswammes: I was expecting to also want to give up after some time. But I kept liking the book, and liking it more and I wondered when this point would come that I wouldn’t like it anymore: It didn’t happen – I liked all of it. I should have skipped the negative reviews so I would have had a better reading experience. As it was, I’d say this is one fine book that will be counted among my favorite books for this year. Stop reading the reviews, read the book! Rating: 5/5

Book Whisperer: This was definitely a case of style over execution. The plot felt weak. The visuals were good but the plot was more of a whimper than a bang and I found myself rushing it in the hope of getting to the end and being rewarded which I never felt I was. It’s a shame – I wanted to love it but I really didn’t.

Wilfrid Wong: A small part of the book is written is second person, ‘you’.  It is unusual and rare.  It works well.  If you love magic like I do, chances are, you will be drawn into the story, materializing the circus inside the boundary of your imagination.  When that happens, you know the author has done something remarkable.  The Night Circus will capture your imagination.  Be fascinated.  Go ahead and try it out today.

About the writer:

Erin Morgenstern was raised in Marshfield, Massachusetts and studied theater and studio art at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, graduating in 2000. In addition to writing, she paints, mostly in acrylics, including the Phantomwise tarot deck. She signed with Inkwell Management in May 2010 after being rejected by thirty literary agents, and sold her debut novel to Doubleday in September 2010; The Night Circus was published in September 2011. She has participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2003, and first wrote about what would become The Night Circus in November 2005. Morganstern still resides in Massachusetts.

In an interview with the School Library Journal, Morgenstern describes the short, self-contained chapters as recapitulating the myriad tents of the circus, and the black and white with a splash of red motif as showing dangerous passion simmering just below the surface.

The Night Circus is a candidate for the 2011 Guardian First Book Award.


About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


36 thoughts on “The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

  1. What a beautiful copy you got, and what a bargain! Shame you didn’t love it though (atleast you didn’t spend much on it!). I do still fancy reading this need to know for myself what the hype is about. When I first heard about it I instantly thought back to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes which is a super creepy circus tale.

    Posted by jessicabookworm | April 9, 2012, 10:49 am
  2. Am reading this book currently (in PDF) . Your review makes me glad I didn’t get the hard copy. I love beautiful books too, but I prefer dog eared grubby little torn books if they have a better story to tell.

    Posted by Amritorupa Kanjilal | April 9, 2012, 11:52 am
  3. I have read so many rave reviews of this book and can’t bring myself to read it. I think that’s because I am not good with magical realism. However, I can appreciate that a book is well done even if its genre is not my thing and I think that’s what this book is: a really well done book that I am not going to read

    Posted by smroyals | April 9, 2012, 1:04 pm
  4. I’m happy to admit that I loved the style of this book so much that this definitely upped my experience of the book. But that is fine with me. I liked the story too, a lot, so for me it was a win-win situation. 🙂

    I’m not sure about the Tiger’s Wife – haven’t read it, but no interest in reading it either. Hypes: I’ve realised some hypes are warranted and for me, this is true for The Night Circus and e.g., The Help, and certainly some other books too.

    Posted by Leeswammes | April 9, 2012, 1:12 pm
    • Judith,
      Oh… the Help is another one. I probably should read it to see what the hypes are all about. I agree some hypes are warranted, I like Harry Potter, and Twilight to a certain extent and I think I will like Hunger Games series soon!
      p/s: Don’t bother with The Tiger’s Wife, not sure how it gets picked to be last year’s Orange prize winner. 😦

      Posted by JoV | April 10, 2012, 7:06 am
  5. I stayed away from this book last year because of all the hype, although one of my friends did buy me a copy for Christmas. I’m going to read it soon as I’m trying to read as many books from the Orange prize long-list as possible, so I’ll try to keep an open mind. I hope I find more substance in it than you did.

    Posted by Sam (Tiny Library) | April 9, 2012, 3:25 pm
  6. It sounds like we had similar reactions to this one: there was much more style than substance. I actually enjoyed the first part more. Then it plateaued and I struggled to finish. It is an interesting premise–but you’ve got to deliver either plot, character development or hauntingly brilliant writing. This one had only setting.

    Posted by nomadreader | April 9, 2012, 7:06 pm
  7. This was a very different type of read for me, but I enjoyed it. The book itself is beautiful sn’t it? Good deal for you.

    Posted by Diane@BibliophilebytheSea | April 10, 2012, 1:31 am
    • Diane,
      Glad to hear you enjoyed it. Sometimes we do look out for something a little different than our usual reading. It’s disappointing that the plot and character development for this book could not be better.

      Posted by JoV | April 10, 2012, 7:10 am
  8. Definitely style over substance. That said, I enjoyed this book way, way more than I would usually enjoy a style-over-substance book. It’s at least very very very appealingly stylish. I wouldn’t necessarily rush to read a book about these characters, but I would be interested in seeing more events happening in this setting. It was such an evocative setting!

    Posted by Jenny | April 10, 2012, 2:07 am
    • Jenny,
      LOL… This place the book the winner over all “style over substance” books then! Sometimes I let those beautiful covers sway what I thought about the book, then I snap myself out of dreaming and into reality!

      Posted by JoV | April 10, 2012, 7:14 am
  9. I have to say that I LOVED the book. I do think that is was a bit too slow in the middle, but still I loved it so. Your copy is beautiful 🙂

    Posted by Uniflame | April 10, 2012, 7:21 am
  10. I can see why it let you down. I agree that it’s terribly hyped and that when you look clearly, it’s mostly fluff and not so much content. But in this case, I didn’t mind 🙂 Love your cheap find though!

    Posted by Chinoiseries | April 10, 2012, 10:24 am
  11. You bought it for £1.50?! Woah! Too bad, you don’t like it.

    Polarizing opinions are interesting. The book does read chaotic because of the time line manipulation. To me, that is the strength. I strongly suspect that if someone is to read this book chronologically, it would be pretty bland. It is the first book I read in such a way that time line manipulation plays such a crucial component to the storytelling. There must be some meticulous planning involved.

    I don’t know. I still feel that it is a genius piece of work. It feels so … magical.



    Posted by Wilfrid | April 10, 2012, 2:31 pm
    • By the way, I didn’t even know there is a hype on this hahaha. I just read it because of the excerpt.

      Posted by Wilfrid | April 10, 2012, 2:33 pm
    • Oh, if you like magic explained, you may like The Last Guardian by Jeff Grubb. It is set in the Warcraft universe though. Something I have read in Bandung. All magic, are explained hahaha.

      Posted by Wilfrid | April 10, 2012, 2:34 pm
    • Wilfrid,
      I love chaotic timeline. You remember The Time Traveller’s Wife (TTW)? I love it. You should give it a go because the timeline manipulation is of the highest order in TTW! I understand how you feel but I need some substance to go with it. I’m not very keen on magic, I read Harry Potter because there were too much hype over it but I grew to like it. So I’ll leave The Last Guardian for now. 😉

      Posted by JoV | April 11, 2012, 8:22 am
  12. Wow — I love that copy you have there! I would buy it just to put it on my shelf, even though I already have another (ARC) copy. I wished too that the mysteries and details within this book were better explained. I would definitely have loved it more.

    Posted by Athira | April 10, 2012, 10:23 pm
  13. WAIT!! DON’T GIVE IT TO A CHARITY SHOP!! This book has to be read in a certain state of mind; you have to be a reveur, reading it in a dream-like quality. It’s that Gothic, antique feel. I implore you to try it again; by then if you don’t enjoy this book…send it to me. I’m kidding (not really, because your copy is just gorgeous and at this point I’m still relying on the library to deliver my copy whenever I request it, which is ALL THE TIME).

    Posted by IAmGhost120 | May 29, 2012, 2:49 pm
    • IAmGhost,
      I won’t give it to charity shop. It is too beautiful to do so. Thanks for persuading me about the reading it in a certain state of mind, but I doubt I would change my mind about this one… lets say sometimes a bookshelf needs to be decorated, this book meets that purpose! 😀

      Posted by JoV | May 30, 2012, 10:48 am
  14. For me, the book quickly made it’s way to my #1 favourite book. I love the world it’s set in and for me, personally, I hate it when magic is explained. Magic isn’t meant to be explained. It’s meant to be magical. I like to think that the reader is supposed to be one of the rêveurs. They truly love and adore the circus and I think they know there is more than meets the eye. But they relish the circus because of what they see and experience. Knowledge of how it works will ruin that.
    I personally think it’s one the most beautifully written books. The wording and sentence buildup is amazing. I like that not everything comes to an end. This makes me feel like the circus is still going strong. There are no major loose ends that I can see. The Night Circus is a story about a magical circus and its inhabitants and “fans”. It doesn’t need big events to make it great. The entire story is the event.

    Posted by Tessa | October 2, 2012, 2:34 pm
  15. I finished Morgenstern’s book yesterday and didn’t like it nearly as much as I thought I would. I kept reading, wondering when something would finally happen. She writes beautifully, but the plot is very, very weak. For me, it wasn’t worth the time (not to mention money) I spent to read it.

    Posted by A.M.B. | December 17, 2012, 11:13 pm
    • A.M.B.
      I agree with you. If it’s not because I got it cheap and I thought the book was pretty I would have given it away (maybe one day I will!). The plot is very very weak, there wasn’t any substance to it. I suppose if I continue to say anything more negative about this book, I would risk the attack of her fans!
      Thanks for your first comment on my blog.

      Posted by JoV | December 19, 2012, 8:39 pm
      • I know! I hestitated to say what I did in my post because I know how much others loved it. I was relieved after finding your post and a few others to know that I wasn’t alone with these criticisms.

        Posted by A.M.B. | December 19, 2012, 9:07 pm
        • A.M.B.,
          Say as much as you want and what you want to say here. My readers know that I’m honest and blunt with what I have to say! Isn’t it wonderful to be able to find someone who thinks the same as you did? LOL

          Posted by JoV | December 19, 2012, 9:23 pm


  1. Pingback: March 2012 : Wrap-up! « JoV's Book Pyramid - April 10, 2012

  2. Pingback: Magic in Manhattan | The Misfortune Of Knowing - December 17, 2012

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

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The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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