Monday, December 5, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Rating: 3 Stars
It would seem to me that Erin Morgenstern’s debut book missed its destiny. It would have been a spell-binding graphic novel. The author has an artist’s visual sense, and she virtually paints a world within our imagination. Yet, some things are missing.
Illusionist, Hector Bowen, better known to his audience as Prospero the Magician, receives a not too pleasant surprise when a hitherto unknown daughter is dropped into his life. Though his paternal impulses are not stirred at meeting six-year old Celia, his professional and competitive instincts are aroused when he realizes that she has inherited more than a little of his talents. He challenges an old rival, Alexander, to train an apprentice who can match her in a contest of their making. Celia and Marco Alisdair, grow up always aware of the presence of the other, and the eventual contest to be faced. The nature of the challenge itself and the criteria for winning are left to be guessed. As much pawns as they are players, the enchanting world that they conjure is thrown increasingly into peril as they realize the stakes involved.
It sounds gorgeous, doesn’t it? In many ways it is an exquisite confection of a novel – the stuff that dreams are made of. It reminded me of another of this year’s debut novels – The Tiger’s Wife – which also brimmed with alluring potential, but didn’t quite deliver on its promise.  
The problem is that what is enough for a fairy-tale doesn’t do the trick for a full-length book. Though the idea is intriguing, the plot development is nebulous and dreamy, and characterization is flat. Reams of paper are devoted to the description of the Cirque de Rêves  – that fragile, fantastic child of Celia and Marco’s imagination; but the end result smacks of smoke and mirrors, and is ultimately less than completely satisfying.

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