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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Duel Between Silhouettes

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

I tried to read this for my book group but I could only manage to get half way through. So this is not intended as a fair review. It's just an account of my response.

The Night Circus is the story of a duel between two magicians enacted by their young protégés and conducted in line with a set of rules which are never made clear, either to them or to the reader. The duel takes place over a period of years and is played out in a mysterious, magical and extremely chic travelling circus.

That's not necessarily a bad premise, but for me its possibilities are gravely undermined by the tone of the book. There's the same kind of twee narrative voice that you find in Chocolat or in the film Amelie and if you liked either of those (which I did not), then you might like this.

The problem with such a tone is that it precludes the possibility of characters who are in any way representative of real people; in the case of The Night Circus the characters seem scarcely more than silhouettes, their statements bearing almost no resemblance to the conversation of real people. Here, for example, is how one young woman speaks:

'I have had affairs that lasted decades and other that lasted hours. I have loved princesses and peasants.'

I was reminded of the lyrics of the country and western song, 'I've Never Been To Me' which include lines of similar grandiloquence:

'I've been undressed by kings and I've seen some things that a woman ain't supposed to see. I've been to paradise, but I've never been to me.'

In fairness, Erin Morgenstern describes all her work as 'fairy tales in one way or another'. Nevertheless, I believe that even fairy tale characters need to be made of more substantial stuff than this.

When one young man who is obsessed with the circus got presented with a silver ticket giving him unlimited admission I felt this was getting too much like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without any of the fun. So I gave up.