Tensely present – when writing doesn’t work like it should

I’ve just started reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and I was struck straight away by the way the story is told. It’s in the present tense, and the first few pages are also in the second person, told as ‘you did this’ rather than ‘I’ or ‘she’. That’s an unusual tense for a novel, and in even more unusual person, and the effect is interesting.

Theoretically, you might expect it to make the story more immediate. After all, we live our lives in the present, and the second person perspective pushes us directly into the story.

But in practice, the experience is an unsettling one. I’m so used to past tense and first or third person that the unfamiliarity of it is unsettling. I assume this was Morgenstern’s intent – it’s in keeping with the tone and content of those first few pages – and any fiction writer who thought about it might expect the same result. But it still goes against the logic of the language in and of itself, and shows how our reactions are governed by where that language is used – in this case to tell a story.

Anybody else got any thoughts on this? Reasons why my expectations are faulty, or different reasons why it’s unsettling? And how do you feel about reading books in an unusual voice?