The Starless Sea

From Erin Morgenstern comes a story full of glittering phrases, rich in symbols and magical imagery of an underground world of stories. Overly wrought in metaphor, The Starless Sea ebbs in focus and solid resolution, and left me adrift in an ocean of confusion.

 

Synopsis:

Zachary Ezra Rawlins finds his own life story in the pages of an unauthored ancient book and follows a mysterious trail of clues to an underground world of stories and riddles in order to find the book’s source.

His head is still reeling with too many stories and too many complicated feelings.

— Erin Morgenstern

Review:

*Sigh. I feel exhausted just thinking about this review*

This book in a nutshell: complex, mysterious, mesmerizing, major holes in plot/symbolism, and was overall disappointing. Here’s why…

First of all, I ADORE Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. Needless to say, I was pumped to hear she had a new book coming out. Upon starting The Starless Sea, I was smiling at the cleverness of her metaphors – they are massive and complex to unpack, but so poetic at times. But after a few hundred pages of the same metaphor-laden prose, it felt too heavy and unfocused. It took until about a third of the way through (Book III) to get interesting and mostly kept it up until the end, but left so many unanswered questions.

It’s as if she writes for the sake of having glittering phrases, instead of furthering plot and meaning. To battle metaphor for metaphor…reading The Starless Sea feels like floating in a dream that never materializes in meaning or substance, where everything is a symbol for something else, and everything feels slightly magical yet stays foggy. I feel like she even knew how her prose was coming across…like in this quote…

Where each word is more than one thing at once and everything’s a metaphor. The meaning condensed into rhythm and sound and the spaces between sentences.

— Erin Morgenstern

While I enjoyed the complexity of stories within stories, I was expecting to connect all of the storylines at the end and was disappointed when they didn’t. Instead of feeling resolved, I’m still wondering about so many things – meanings, relationships, identities. There are just too many question marks.

Some of the sentences, in the vein of stream-of-consciousness, are overly long and run-on. I appreciate complexity and richness in imagery, but after reading over 500 pages full of metaphor and innuendo and mind puzzles, I want to be rewarded at the end with the surety of my beliefs in what the book was about. While there are a few windows to some happy endings and beginnings, so many storylines and symbols are left open and too unresolved.

I feel like the author should be the one to tie all of the storylines together and present me with what the purpose of her story was. I don’t mind some ambiguity, but I feel like my mind is working overtime to try to make sense of the abundance of metaphor, and I’m just coming up empty. Every time I make a bit of headway in thinking about, analyzing, and tying some bits of narrative together, another question or two pops up to take its place.

Overall, I liked what Erin Morgenstern was trying to do, and I was holding out hope that it would get there and form a cohesive story, but it just fell short and remained fragmented to me. The story was so rich in metaphor, but lacking in resolved plot. I even have a whole list of black holes of reason. For richness of imagination, I give the highest marks, but I can’t say that I love the book as a whole.

Check out this thought-provoking review of The Starless Sea: Nothing But A Sea of Disappointment in ‘The Starless Sea’ by Cassandra Luca in the Harvard Crimson.

 

The Starless Sea
by Erin Morgenstern
Hardcover, 512 pages
Published November 5th 2019 by Doubleday Books

Summary

From Erin Morgenstern comes a story full of glittering phrases, rich in symbols and magical imagery of an underground world of stories. Overly wrought in metaphor, The Starless Sea ebbs in focus and solid resolution, and left me adrift in an ocean of confusion.

— Cassie
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