Friday, August 22, 2014

Review of _The Night Circus_, by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What to say aboutThe Night Circus... Other than that it is a lavish, sensory tour-de-force, a sumptuous fin-de-si├Ęcle fantasy, a tale about magic that manages a magic all its own.

Erin Morgenstern made a wise choice in situating her opulent story at the turn of the twentieth century, in the waning years of the Gilded Age. This gaslit, Victorian landscape readily lends itself to the type of baroque, densely descriptive narrative that helps Morgenstern achieve and maintain such an exquisite hold on her created world. The territory has been well scouted before her, of course, by the likes of E. L. Doctorow (The Waterworks) and Mark Helprin (A Winter's Tale). Something about the exuberance of the era, coupled with its hidden decadence and its fascination with the unknown--both scientific and occult--allows one to believe that a flight of fancy such as Morgenstern spins here could actually find a hiding place among the gaudy folds of the times. One wants to believe that it all really happened--that it is still happening.

Go and get your ticket to The Night Circus. But be careful: you may be tempted to stay past closing time.

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Review of Donna Tartt's _The Secret History_

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me say at the outset: Donna Tartt's prose in The Secret History is brilliant. She succeeds completely, I think, in evoking time, place, and mood. In that sense, the book afforded me that prized experience of being seduced by a world, of entering into it (mostly) willingly and being allowed to live there until (mostly) sated with the secret and guilty delights it had to offer.

However ... I felt slightly frustrated by my inability to form a bond with any of the characters. All of them are more or less deeply flawed, which is fine, of course. But Richard lacks Holden Caulfield's poorly hidden sympathy (which would have provided at least some redemption), and the brilliant Henry, as much as I wanted to admire him, had no interest in my admiration--or anyone else's, it seemed. The others fall in a line somewhere behind these two, to a greater or lesser degree.

I must give Tartt an admiring nod for having the chutzpah, especially in a first novel, to stick to her guns and tell the story with such lovely absence of passion. Her skillful descriptions are all the more remarkable for the cold and remote tone she achieves throughout.

By all means, read The Secret History. But I wouldn't pair it with lavender tea beside the fireplace.

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