Some context before explaining my 5-star rating. I jumped right into The Night Circus without reading any "trailers", descriptions or reviews of the book. Once I finished, I read two very good but negative reviews of Morgenstern's work. I found myself agreeing with the vast majority of their points. Still, my overall impression of The Night Circus remained the same. I LOVED this novel, and look forward to reading it again in the future.
"Languid" is a decent descriptor of the book's pacing. Morgenstern took her time to tell the story, providing beautiful, lush descriptions of the various settings. Her verbal paintings of Midnight Dinners with Chandresh, the Ice Garden, the lighting of the circus bonfire, the clock, and numerous others had a meditative, peaceful effect on me as reader. I was reminded of my favorite movie - Wim Wender's Wings of Desire - another languid work of art that takes its own sweet time in spinning a tale. Boring? For some. I found the slow pace intoxicating.
Morgenstern addresses deep philosophical issues in The Night Circus. Does humankind have free will in any meaningful sense? Or is existence scripted for us, with little to no individual agency in our lives? What rights and responsibilities do parents have in making life choices on behalf of their children? Is any life, human or non-human, expendable? Is immortality really all its cracked up to be? Morgenstern's Night Circus provides an interesting stage for engaging such issues.
Another interesting element to The Night Circus is Morgenstern's use of time. The extended lives of circus personnel and friends, moving backward and forward through time from chapter to chapter, establishing a circular rhythm and structure to the narrative by repeating the first line of the story in the next to last chapter - all gave the story a timeless, almost disorienting feel. This sense of timelessness made the circus almost familiar to me, despite the main action occurring more than a century ago. Sure I've experienced multiple iterations of Cirque de Soleil. I've been introduced to words like "Exsanguinated" through X-files. But Morgenstern does her part in making the circus more familiar to me by removing me from linear time, refusing to limit the characters' behavior to the more constricting Victorian values of the late 19th, early 20th century, and placing an impermeable wall between the circus milieu and the turbulent turn-of-the-century political environment.
In all, a very enjoyable, timeless, disorienting, mystical read.