My dad once said to me, "You give a lot of books three stars." I do.
Let’s start with what I didn’t like about the book. I didn’t like the characters. As I was reading there was a distance between me and what was happening to the characters in the books. I felt no real connection to any one character, and I couldn’t tell whose story it was.
Another aspect of the book I had a problem with was the genre. What kind of story is this? Is it a mystery? Is it a romance? Is it a YA novel? Fantasy? Magical realism? Steampunk? The Night Circus doesn’t really fit into any of these categories. It didn’t go far enough in any one direction. It wasn’t grounded clearly enough in either the real world or a fantasy world. I don’t think everything needs to be squished into a box, but The Night Circus doesn’t seem to defy genre or categorization, it just seems to muddle bits and pieces of genres together which I found distracting.
The last problem I had with the book was with the conflict or lack thereof. The whole book revolves around the competition between Celia and Marco. To end the competition, one must be defeated (aka die), leaving the other the victor. There’s also a lot of talk about how everyone in the circus depends on them and they have to keep the circus going or else who knows what will happen to all the people? I never felt any urgency about the competition or the fact that the circus could fall apart. In the end the characters’ sacrifice is superficial at best. They lose their ability to exist corporeally in the world, but they get to spend eternity with each other in the circus they created for each other. They learn nothing and yet they gain everything at the end.
I can see why the language might frustrate some readers (self-indulgent, overly flowery prose is basically the sole reason I hated Atonement). However, I found the language didn't bother me, and I really wanted more description of the midnight dinners and the circus. I certainly didn't want to read more about the characters or the competition.
Now, all that might make it sound like I hate the book. I don’t. If nothing it is an incredibly readable book. I finished it in two days. Is this book perfect? By no means. Is this book the next Harry Potter? I don’t think so. However, for all elements in this novel that fail, there are elements that I like. The structure is interesting even if it did spoil the ending for me. The second person point of view was used well. For me the story was all about Le Cirque des Rêves and that one element redeems the rest of the novel.
The sights, the sounds, the smells, the colors, the whole atmosphere that Morgenstern creates around Le Cirque des Rêves is transcendent. It made me wish that the whole book was set in the circus. I wished it was a real place I could go and explore. It made a rêveur of me. I rarely say this, but I cannot wait for the movie. Because the strongest parts of the novel are the visual aspects, I think the movie definitely has potential to be better than the book.
ETA: I originally rated this book four stars but have since changed my mind and given it two stars. I'm still hoping for a film adaptation though.