The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht were both New York Times Best Sellers in 2011 and were first novels for both authors.
Having already reviewed Obreht’s novel, several of the things I didn’t fully appreciate in her novel, I liked quite a lot in Morgenstern’s novel. Both novels change point of view, both move back and forth through time, and both stories rely heavily on description.
While Obreht is the better writer, her sentences expertly crafted, her word choice impeccable, The Night Circus, in my opinion, is the better story.
From the opening line, “The circus arrives without warning,” Morgenstern creates a sense of tension that builds steadily to the end of the book. She asks a lot of the reader in their willingness to suspend believability, but succeeds by revealing her surprises slowly and in even increments. Morgenstern took risks in this novel and is quoted on her website as saying,
…when I started educating myself about the industry and found things that said “don’t write in present tense” and “never use second person ever” and I thought: oops. But I had written so much already that I figured it couldn’t hurt to just see what happened, and figured at most it would be publishable even if it wasn’t done “properly” and I think it goes to show that rules are more like guidelines.
Her use of second person is a risk that pays off. She uses the second person point of view in vignettes between chapters to literally draw the reader into the descriptions of the various circus tents. The vignettes not only build the world but act as metaphors for the narration in the following chapter. Structurally, it makes for an effective technique, even if it breaks the rules a little.
Appropriately titled The Night Circus, Morgenstern’s world is dream-like and the reader is given brain candy with descriptions of bonfires that flicker in a rainbow of colors before turning white, little glass bottles that look empty, but when opened have stories inside, and a garden made of ice.
As a devoted reader, I know this statement is blasphemy: I think this book would make an excellent film.
So much of this story relies on illusion and visual transformations–I would love to see a director with a distinct visual aesthetic (Tim Burton perhaps) take a crack at bringing this story to life on the screen.
Likely, I feel no shame in wanting this book to be turned into a film because I didn’t fall in love with the writing. It was solid and consistent, but I didn’t feel compelled to start underlining passages. What I fell in love with was Morgenstern’s imagination.
Exercising my own imagination, I played a round of “Fantasy Movie Casting” with this book. Here’s my line up, who would you cast?