Format: Audio CDs

The first half of my 30 hours of driving this week was accompanied by Martin Jarvis narrating Good Omens, but the second half had a different British narrator reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Jim Dale narrated this book. He also narrated Pushing Daisies (available on CW Seed for free, by the way). He’s better known for narrating the Harry Potter books, but since I read those, I don’t actually have that bit of nostalgia.

I was actually worried when he first started talking at the beginning, though I was worried for the wrong reason. He has a very soothing, let me tell you a story by this warm fire as you sip cocoa and drift to sleep voice. He’s like the British grandpa you never had (unless you’re British, in which case maybe you had a British grandpa who told you stories next to warm fires as you drifted to sleep after drinking warm cocoa). I was genuinely concerned I wouldn’t be able to listen to the book on a long drive when I was tired from the get-go, but that ended up being an unfounded fear. I got into the story pretty quickly, and when he’s voicing characters, he has more pep.

No, the real problem ended up being that he was British. After Martin Jarvis and Jim Dale talking to me for the bulk of my 30 hours on the road, I started mentally narrating in a British accent. When I was reading an American book by an American author, I was hearing a British narrator. I’m still hearing a British narrator. It is quite disconcerting.

But that’s enough of that. Let us move to the book.

One of the things I kept seeing about The Night Circus was that the book’s description from the publisher was particularly useless. The description would have you believe this is a supernatural Cirque du Soleil-type story that lives and dies at the circus, and that doesn’t quite grasp what’s going on. Of course, the story doesn’t lend itself to an easy description. I’ll just do my best:

The story follows two magicians who engage in a contest of wills against their wills. The web of their interactions pulls in a great many other people as the magicians circle each other benevolently (for the most part), casting effects on unsuspecting individuals as the circus makes its way through time.

There. I don’t know that I’ll be hired by HarperCollins or Scholastic any time soon, but at least I don’t try to pass off something that isn’t a love story as a love story.

This is a sprawling story. It follows multiple perspectives over the span of about 30 years. This doesn’t make for easy listening. The story’s good, but there are details, and details aren’t great for audiobooks. I didn’t miss all that much, but I was missing one particular time jump repeatedly for a while.

Our core POV characters are the magicians as they grow up and as they get involved in the circus. Because of the description, you know the magicians will fall for each other. I got a little too clever for my own good at one point and thought they met each other sooner than they did under false pretenses. That would have been interesting. Otherwise, you’ve got a jumping type of storytelling. Whereas most shifting POV books go person to person in a straight line (or like Gone Girl you get a mindfuck), this one jumps over time, jumps person to person, and sometimes jumps to no one in particular. I can’t remember reading anything quite like this. You never really get settled in the story, but it all weaves together well. I didn’t mind it like I did with Grapes of Wrath. This is weird, but go with it: It’s like an intricate dance with multiple performers. Everyone has their part of the whole and you can only watch one or two at a time, but it all means something more when you put it together.

Had there been a more linear style, some of the things that aren’t resolved until the end would get resolved too early and some things that get resolved wouldn’t have done so satisfactorily.

Other than that, I think I can just say it’s a good book. You don’t get to know any one character all that well because of shifting perspectives, but sometimes that’s ok. I’m not sure if/when this will appear as an adaptation. I can’t imagine this working as a movie without taking a bulldozer to a lot of the elements. A miniseries could work, though a TV series would be best if you could manage the costs.

I won’t give away any spoiler material. Everything’s a little too weaved together to get specific. It’s hard to say this book is about any one thing. It all goes together, so maybe it’s best to say the book is about the web of connections and how pulling one string moves everything else. Maybe.

 

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