Month: October 2011

Fail Pile #3: The Night Circus

I really thought I’d like The Night Circus, and I did, to a certain extent. I just couldn’t get through it. First of all, I’m bad at pop fiction. That’s usually because of those authors’ horrible style. Erin Morgenstern‘s style isn’t nearly as bad as Charlaine Harris‘s, for example. (Note: I use Charlaine Harris as an example of the worst kind of writing.) I think that the main reason that I couldn’t finish it is that it’s written in present tense, which, for whatever reason, I find incredibly distracting. I wanted The Night Circus to be something like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, which I loved, but it’s not. It is about two dueling magicians in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but it’s also a love story. And the present tense. At the beginnings of sections of chapters, she even uses second-person POV, which is interesting. Those parts work because they’re short: it’s like you’re experiencing the circus for yourself, and it’s a magnificent one. I just couldn’t get beyond the present tense. And the story seems to go on forever. It’s slow in some of the same ways that Jonathan Strange can seem, but Jonathan Strange kept my attention – and it’s twice as long as The Night Circus.

Part of it, too, was that I knew I didn’t really have time to finish it. I got to the halfway point very slowly because of various things going on right now (moving!), and I absolutely have to be book-free tomorrow morning because my very favorite author, Haruki Murakami, has a new book coming out tomorrow, 1Q84, which I must begin reading as soon as it pops onto my Kindle. Or my head will explode, or something.

So: it’s not that The Night Circus is a bad novel – in fact, I think it’s a pretty good one – it’s that the style doesn’t fit my personal preference, and I started reading it without figuring out how long it is first. I’d still recommend it if you really liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

2011 Book # 43: The Mysterious Benedict Society

I generally like kids’ novels – Harry Potter, for instance, or The Hunger Games, or The Golden Compass, or The Blue Sword, etc, etc, etc. I think it’s because I can usually identify with the characters, and an adult having written them probably helps. That said, The Mysterious Benedict Society didn’t work for me. It might be aimed at a younger crowd than I’m used to, though these kids are 11 and 12, and Harry Potter started out at that age. I was also somewhere around 18 at that point – certainly nowhere near 30.

The Mysterious Benedict Society is about four kids, all of them basically orphans, who see an add in the newspaper offering adventures to kids who can pass a test. They’re the only for who pass, and they’re taken to a large house and, eventually, told what’s going on: There’s a Bad Guy who is sending out subliminal messages saying that he is awesome and that they should do whatever he says. He runs a school on an island just out of town, and they’re supposed to infiltrate it and discover his secrets. Well, they do both, then, in a heroic move, they decide to stay and try to destroy him. Things continue to happen. The end.

Again, I’m not a fan. It almost seems like Trenton Lee Stewart started writing a novel for a slightly older age group, then, mid-novel, decided he should aim a bit younger. I liked the beginning well enough. Stewart’s style is okay, though the characters are a bit flat, and there aren’t any particularly slow points. I found myself thinking too many times through the novel that the kids were being dumb and taking risks that even kids wouldn’t take. They seemed to be acting even younger than they were, which really irritated me. And then there are some stupid twists that made me roll my eyes. For instance (spoiler!): one of the kids is really short and pouty, though she turns out necessary. She’s probably as smart of the rest of them, but she has a really bad attitude. We find out why at the end of the novel: she’s a precocious two-year-old. Urrrrgh. Then, there are the life issues brought up in the beginning and then tied up way too simply at the end. Like (another spoiler!) one of the kids has a ridiculous photographic memory, and his parents take advantage of him, signing him up for game shows and amassing piles of money. He runs away, and his parents get tons of donations to help find him, which they spend on themselves. The kid seems a bit bitter, as he should be. At the end of the novel, though, when all the kids are being adopted (meh), his parents show up all apologetic, and all, saying they decided they missed him and went into debt looking for him. Instead of being angry like any normal kid would do, this particularly smart kid is perfectly happy to be reunited with his parents, and things go on as if nothing had ever happened. Yeah, right. I was annoyed.

So I guess I’ve just found a novel aimed at too young an audience with which I can identify, though the top of the book’s cover claims that it was at the top of the New York Times’ bestseller list, and I don’t know how it could do that without a bunch of adult readers. It’s also a series: the Mysterious Benedict Society has quite a few adventures on the bookshelves. I won’t be checking those out anytime soon.

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