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Giving up on a book

Sometimes it happens. I just gave up reading The Night Circus. Several people thought it would be a surefire winner with me, but while I was initially enchanted by the feats of magic that get performed at the circus, eventually I just found myself drowning in them. I needed more to happen; I needed the characters and their lives to matter more; I needed more sense of urgency. There was supposedly urgency and threat, but there was so much fabulosity and ethereal beauty all over the place--such long stretches of it--that it was hard to really grasp or appreciate the threat. I expand on this a little here at Goodreads . . . so what I'm going to add here on LJ are a couple of things that are too silly and pettish to put on a Goodreads review.

One thing: one of the characters wears a bowler hat, and there are scenes in the story that I felt were clearly meant to call to mind Magritte's paintings of the man with the bowler hat... and instead of feeling charmed by this, I felt irritated.

A second thing: language! Why is this story set a hundred years ago when everyone uses modern lingo ("impact" as a verb jumped out at me)? Why not just set it in the present? At the point where I gave up (about two-thirds of the way through), I had yet to see the necessity of the setting in the past.

Okay. That about does it. I *wish* I could have liked it. I did appreciate some of the lovely inventions. . . but there got to be too many, for my tastes.



( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
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Apr. 6th, 2015 11:30 pm (UTC)
I find that I have less patience lately for books that aren't excellent. I give up on them much more easily than I used to. There are just so many good books out there, I don't want to waste my time with books I don't love.
Apr. 6th, 2015 11:41 pm (UTC)
In this case, it isn't even that I think it's a bad book; it's just a bad book for me. (And yeah, me too.)
Apr. 7th, 2015 12:46 am (UTC)
Great review! That is, I get a good sense of what to expect from the book, of its strengths as well as of what you didn't like.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:08 am (UTC)
Oh good! That's definitely what I hope for. This is a book that many will love, and I can understand that. It just wasn't for me.
Apr. 7th, 2015 01:14 am (UTC)
I also started this but stalled out. I loved the idea of it, but it felt pretty yet flat.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:09 am (UTC)
I think people who engage with it must fill out the characters in their minds. I guess that always happens--we always enrich the characters on the page--but I feel like other books don't make it such hard work.
Apr. 7th, 2015 01:16 am (UTC)
I did appreciate some of the lovely inventions. . . but there got to be too many, for my tastes.

I can't tell if I should or should not recommend you Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus (1984), which is a great circus novel; it is elaborately written, but I always feel it's doing something.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:11 am (UTC)
I certainly have no a priori objections to elaborate writing! If it comes recommended by you then it's definitely worth checking out.
(no subject) - sovay - Apr. 7th, 2015 04:29 am (UTC) - Expand
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Apr. 7th, 2015 04:15 am (UTC)
I can see why people thought I would like it, but the things they thought of as draws weren't as much of a draw for me as they (and I) thought they'd be, and the other deficits really sank it for me.
Apr. 7th, 2015 01:23 am (UTC)
I thought about reading this but haven't yet.

It reminds me of The Prestige by Christopher Priest or perhaps Blind Voices by Tom Reamy.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:16 am (UTC)
I've seen it compared on Goodreads to The Prestige
(no subject) - yamamanama - Apr. 7th, 2015 12:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Apr. 7th, 2015 12:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 7th, 2015 01:54 am (UTC)
I finished it but despite my love of the subject matter, it was a disappointment. I fell like it just fell apart, like the author had no idea what to do with the characters or how to wrap up the story.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:18 am (UTC)
Yeah, I felt that she was making it up as she went along, which is an okay way of working on plot creation, but I like there to be more of a sense of cause and effect. I flipped through the rest of the book just to see how it all wrapped up and yes, I think I was wise to stop when I did (nothing that gets revealed would have changed my opinion).

I like the subject matter too! I have a whole unpublished circus novel :-)
(no subject) - yamamanama - Apr. 7th, 2015 12:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Apr. 7th, 2015 12:54 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 7th, 2015 02:21 am (UTC)
These are quite valid criticisms. In my case, I think a large part of the reason I had so little trouble getting through it was that I purchased it on impulse in an airport bookstore prior to a long (and cramped) flight - I actually appreciated the digressions and fantastical ideas and tours far more than I might have if (say) I had been home home and could have been doing any number of other things, or even reading one of the eight (*cough* eighty) other books in the stack on the bedside table.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:22 am (UTC)
Circumstance and expectation have such a large effect on how we experience something! Fortunately I have two other books ongoing that I'm enjoying much more.
Apr. 7th, 2015 02:34 am (UTC)
For the longest time I thought I was the only one who found it totally unengaging, in spite of the cool idea. And for exactly these reasons.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:23 am (UTC)
I smiled when I saw your comment on one of my status updates.
(no subject) - negothick - Apr. 7th, 2015 03:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Apr. 7th, 2015 03:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 7th, 2015 02:58 am (UTC)
I am pursuing the last volume of the Divergent trilogy. It is still the case that the young persons keep smirking all the time. I don't know why. I wish they wouldn't.

(I can read anything in audio. Mostly.)
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:23 am (UTC)
One of my LJ friends listened to it on audio. That might have made it go by better for me (though I've had some pretty bad audio book experiences, too, so....)
(no subject) - amaebi - Apr. 7th, 2015 11:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Apr. 10th, 2015 05:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Apr. 7th, 2015 03:38 am (UTC)
I loved this book, although the ending disappointed me. It cast this magic spell over me and when it ended it clung to my brain like a scarf made out of magic.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:32 am (UTC)
I have felt that way about books! I felt that way about Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. And I can see how this book could do that .... It just didn't happen for me (LOL, sounds like when sex doesn't work out...)
Apr. 7th, 2015 03:55 am (UTC)
I really liked that book, but I was surprised that I liked it. I felt like normally I would have thought it was rather slow, but due to what was happening in my life at the time, I ended up being really invested in the relationships and the possible romantic relationship in the story. (I wonder how much current life events impact anyone's enjoyment of different stories.)

I did dislike the jumping around of the chronology, but mostly that was because there wasn't enough character descriptions all the time, so I ended up getting two characters confused with each other and then being confused about what was happening.

But it's funny when you think about who likes certain books and why. I would have thought that you would like the book -- mostly because of the fantastical descriptions, which you say you do like -- and I would have thought that I would dislike it for the slow pace of the plot. And yet, I liked it and you disliked it.
Apr. 7th, 2015 04:44 am (UTC)
It's so definitely true that a book can really be enhanced (or diminished) by what's going on with us when we read it. All books depend on the readers bringing a certain willingness and cooperation to the story, right? And you brought that, and the story rewarded you. For me, there were just too many negatives. I did like the descriptions, but I prefer for ethereal magical moments to be used more sparingly.

Yeah! It's funny! I've had books that I've felt sure someone would like, only to have the person not like the book at all. We're surprising and particular about our reads, I guess :-)
Apr. 7th, 2015 05:22 am (UTC)
Did you read Mechanique? Where one circus disappoints, another may possibly enchant...
Apr. 7th, 2015 05:57 am (UTC)
I have not, but I think I've read a good review somewhere. I'll add it to my to-read list--thanks for the recommendation!
Apr. 7th, 2015 06:09 am (UTC)
Your review gives me many things to think about if my brain ever finds its way back to Writing Land.
Apr. 7th, 2015 10:47 am (UTC)
It's definitely given *me* pause, too, as I think that people have in part recommended it to me because my writing reminded me of it. Yikes.
Apr. 7th, 2015 08:32 am (UTC)
I finished it. Hmmm...
I agree with you - it was overwritten & tried too hard.

The following is culled from a letter I wrote to a friend who loved it:

In essence, it disappointed. It began so well & with such promise. A genuine fairytale full of enchantment & potential. By the final third however, I'd become terribly frustrated.

* Where has the 'story' gone?

* Why do all (every single one) of the characters seem to be facsimiles of each other?

* Why do I know so much about what everyone can do & yet so little about who they are? I don't know them at all - there's so little to know. None of them come to life.

* It is incredibly pretty on the surface... Once you get past the costumes & the fabulousness of the circus, there is virtually nothing. (There's an irony for me in the cover, with its silhouettes. That's how the characters feel to me - decoupage people.)

* Celia & Marcos get it on? I read page 374 - specifically this: The entire room trembles as they come together - & actually & literally cackled!

* The ending is abysmal. I can't be bothered to work out why Bailey gets chosen to take over the circus. Yes, he's been fascinated by the circus since he was a child & in a circus story, the 'running away to it' is an obvious trope. But as he always felt like a tagged on side-story, I simply don't get it.

* And neither is the outcome of the game explained. The exciting, intriguing promise of the opening chapters peters out; nothing is satisfactorily resolved.

* Points for the idea - it's brilliant - such a pity the author lost her way.

* Points for the circus as a concept- I loved it until it began to repeat, repeat, repeat & I started wondering, how many more magical 'things' can she invent; how many more do we actually need...?

* I have no idea to whom the linked 'you' passages refer. They feel planted, for effect (only there isn't one.) Alice Hoffman is the mistress of this motif - but she gives us clues. Right up until the end, I kept thinking, EM will reveal who this mysterious 'you' is. And if we're meant to believe it's 'Anon' well, whatever, frankly.

All in all - were I in the habit of reviewing & awarding stars, I'd be pushed to give it four & then only because of the idea & the actual circus. The rest is lucky to snag three...

Your own review echoes my thoughts!
Apr. 7th, 2015 10:46 am (UTC)
Yes, we definitely had the same reaction! I felt the same way about the characters--there was really nothing distinctive about them beyond what the narrative made them do (which was very little), and there was no reason why any one character (and not another) did what he or she did.

I paged through to find out how the dilemma of only-one-can-survive would be resolved and felt very underwhelmed. All right, fine, if you say so.

Bailey was an annoying pudding of a character. How does someone who lives in the 1890s not know the word poppet? All this talk about whether he's going to go to Harvard or take over the farm: I thought he must at least be an adolescent at that point, but then he's talking like the widest-eyed of children to Poppet, and I thought, wait, is he maybe as young as she is?
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