13. The Book That Disappointed Me Most

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Two young people get roped into a battle between their guardians that they don’t understand. They end up working at the same circus together and are tasked with saving it from obscurity.


Read the first few chapters of the book and you will see the charming way in which Erin Morganstern writes. Image driven and ornamental, the premise lures you into this magical realm where anything at all can happen. I loved the idea of true magicians playing their magic off as illusion in order to keep the peace. But after those initial chapters, the book and the style gets very frustrating to read. As I told my friend recently: for a book with so much detail, it sure does use a lot of smoke and mirrors for plot.

For 200 pages, the book flirts with the resolution of the love affair, the competition between Celia and Marco, and the outcome of the circus and all of the people who work there. I have to say that every single revelation was disappointing to me and I blame the style for it. The plot points are built up to a frenzy, so much so that the outcomes are destined to be disappointments.

First off, the love affair. I get it. They are room-shaking-during-orgasm-in-love. I got it in their first scene. All the pulling and pushing and pining became ridiculous and I just wanted something to happen already. The actual resolution is not satisfying at all. I was expecting them to concoct some scheme where students become teachers and the possibilities are endless. What? They transfer themselves into the bonfire. That’s it? The metaphors of eternal burning love are abundant there, and very cliché.

The resolution of the competition was the most disappointing to me. It was the conflict set up in the very first chapter. When I read that it all depended on one of them dying, I wanted to scream. One of them was going to die first anyway. What does that have to do with the years of training they had to endure when they were younger to become magicians in the real sense of the word? It made absolutely no sense. I think the book and the author is way smarter than that. The world she imagined definitely was smarter than that.

The outcome of the circus was just lazy to me. They just gave it to some schmuck off the street for no apparent reason (it seemed to me that the first chapter about Bailey and Poppet was inserted after the fact to tie up those strings). Why? Why not give it to other circus workers? What reason at all was there to give a circus they have been fighting all of their life to maintain to some guy in a vision? And what was up with the Poppet/Widget story line anyway? They were born at the inception of the circus, then suddenly they had some act with kittens that was never explained. Then they’re being trained by Celia to see into the future? What?

And why was this book written non-sequentially? I can’t for the life of me figure out what it added to the story besides confusion. And why were most of the characters stock personas? The contortionist contorted. The illusionists were vague. The soothsayers were confused. The bad guys were bad. The character in this novel that had the most personality was the circus.

Ok. I need to breathe. I should say that my disappointment is fueled by the fact that I loved this story at the beginning. Loved it. It inspired me to try writing in the same vein – image fueled and wondrous. There are some lovely and beautiful things happening in this novel. I just wish the sum amounted to more than its parts.