I normally have posts set to publish at midnight so that first thing in the morning there is something waiting for anyone willing to read. Not so today, because at 1:30am I was still finishing The Night Circus!
It’s true, my schedule has been busy the last couple of weeks with end-of-baseball and end-of-school activities, but if this book had grabbed me I would have found the time. I’m not sure why I didn’t absolutely adore this book. I wanted to love it, and thought I would. It had all the elements I normally love: magical realism (not really, but close enough), romance, bowler hats…
But something was off for me, and the only thing I can point to right now is the use of present/historical present narrative tense.
Celia fixes the broken tea cup. Celia says. Celia nods. Celia fixes another tea cup.
(And then four more. There are a lot of broken tea cups.)
The glass shatters, the sound echoing through the room. The tea spills out over the tiles.
Before anyone turns at the noise, the cup has righted itself. The broken pieces reform around the liquid and the glass sits intact, the tile surface of the table is dry.
It resulted in the use of passive voice, which I absolutely loathe. It was incredibly distracting.
To say the tense of a book is bothersome enough to hamper my enjoyment of a story sounds phenomenally lame, and I almost wrote a post that simply said I found the book “just okay” to avoid sounding like an angry schoolmarm. But for me, the use of present tense narration and passive voice took the tension out of challenge. It was almost as if the narrator was telling the story against his will, and so to retain some dignity he delivers the tale as phlegmatically as possible. The end result is a conflict that simmers, not boils. The last chapter with Bailey and Mr. A. H–, Stories, made me think this was the case, and suddenly the strange structure of the book made sense. Then I remembered Baily receives the same third person narrative as every other character throughout, so that theory’s blown.
Speaking of structure, I found the changes in time confusing. We started 29 years apart and worked our way in and out and back in again. Towards the end of the book I didn’t know if I was in the past or present, 1901 or 1902, and that’s because, as we find out at the very end, 1902 isn’t the future at all, but rather the beginning.
The book wasn’t completely lost on me. I loved the tent descriptions. I want a wishing tree, a pond of tears, and an ice garden. I loved the use of tents as love letters. I loved the circus itself and I wanted to know more about chocolate mice and caramel air. Here is where the author excelled. I feel as if Morgenstern had a wonderful dream with the circus, a white-hot idea she couldn’t shake, and the book was an attempt to breathe life into this very clear, but static idea. In the end, I’m not sure she was able to do the star of the show justice.
From what I see on Goodreads, I have a feeling I’m in the minority. Okay, let’s here it. Tell me how I’m wrong.