“The air swirls in a tempest around them, blowing open the glass doors to the garden with a tangle of billowing curtains. Every eye in the ballroom turns in their direction. And then he releases her and walks away. By the time Marco leaves the room, almost everyone has forgotten the incident entirely. It is replaced by a momentary confusion that is blamed on the heat or the excessive amounts of champagne.” (The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern)
For me, reading ‘The Night Circus’ was a confusing experience; but not because of the scrambled chronology or varied perspectives. I had heard of Morgenstern’s incredible use of language, but I couldn’t see it for myself. To me, though her sentences evoked imaginative images and scenes, the language itself seemed bland, riddled with cliches and insipid metaphors. It took me a while before I realized that ‘incredible language’ meant one thing to me, and something else to all those reviewers.
I would call Morgenstern’s use of language ‘descriptive’ or ‘rich’, and make that concept clearly distinguished from ‘inventive’ or ‘literary’ language. In my mind, the former details the imagery excessively, evoking all of the senses, but without trying to make the individual words unique or interesting. The later, on the other hand, focuses on combining words and phrases in unexpected ways, and using simile and metaphor to enlarge the reader’s perspective of an object or idea. For an example, compare Morgenstern’s epithet for her enigmatic mentor figure with the far more literary Suzanne Clarke’s: ‘the man in the grey suit’ vs. ‘the man with the thistle-down hair’. They both describe similar characters, but Morgenstern’s simply details the physical appearance of the man while Clarke’s is inventive and ambiguous. I know which one I’d rather hear over and over again: do you? Up until reading this book, I hadn’t realized that I prefer inventive language over descriptive language, but only thought that I enjoyed any language-focused work.
I realize that this isn’t so much a review of the book as a detailing of my decisions as a reader, but I do think it is important to have your expectations clearly defined here, because those coming to The Night Circus hoping for a literary exertion will only leave disappointed.
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Length: 528 pages. Audiobook quality: good
In my mind, ‘descriptive language’ and historical fiction go well together. But , if you’re just looking for a read-alike, I’ve heard that ‘A Discovery of Witches’ has similar efforts of magic and imagination.