The Starless Sea

=> Everyone wants the stars. Everyone wishes to grasp that which exists out of reach. To hold the extraordinary in their hands and keep the remarkable in their pockets. –The Starless Sea / Erin Morgenstern <=

Author: Erin Morgenstern

(4.22 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Fantasy

Format: Audiobook

Publication Date: November 5, 2019, Doubleday Books

Pages: 498 (Hardcover)

#TheStarlessSea #StarlessSea

We are all stardust and stories.

In school, I was a Mass Comm major with a minor in English studies. Although a took a couple of Lit classes, I feel woefully unable to put any of my scant knowledge to use at translating this book. And I say “translating” because it really did feel like Morgenstern was writing in a language that was entirely and intentionally foreign to me.

Let’s see what the premise of the book is supposed to be:
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

It is a sanctuary for storytellers and storykeepers and storylovers. They eat and sleep and dream surrounded by chronicles and histories and myths.

I finished this book earlier this month and, honestly, my thoughts on it have still not gelled to a point where I feel I have a clear handle on anything that happened in this story. Anything at all! OK, so let me attempt to slip into the skin of one of those omniscient Lit majors and see if any meaning shakes out in the midst of this review.

One of the biggest things that is apparent in The Starless Sea is the symbolism. There are LOADS of symbols, and if you can pin down solid meanings for any of them, any of them at all, gold stars to you.

There are animals: cats, owls, bees; Objects: keys, swords, crowns, and doors; People: pirates, guardians, keepers, acolytes; and honey, honey, everywhere, but not a drop to drink. There is an Owl King, the cats may (or may not) be able to talk, and the workers in the kitchen are way too efficient to be believed. The nearly 500 pages are so stuffed with metaphor that even the best analyst will have a massive task ahead of them to unpack all of the injected meaning.

As crammed as it is with all of the possible interpretations for this object and that, Sea is sadly missing a clearly defined plot or direction. What we understand at first is that Zach (I refuse to use his whole name as it is used repeatedly in the book) finds a book that leads him on an adventure away from reality and into a world of stories. As the days pass, we expect a clear path of action or an understanding that will lead to some enlightened discovery as the final chapters approach. Unfortunately for the readers, The Starless Sea keeps its secrets both in their world and ours.

This is a rabbit hole. Do you want to know the secret to surviving once you’ve gone down the rabbit hole?”

Zachary nods and Mirabel leans forward. Her eyes are ringed with gold.

“Be a rabbit,” she whispers.

Although this book was not my cup of honey, the stories being told within it were the most interesting parts. Maybe if it had just been a book full of all of those short stories, I would have enjoyed it more. But, alas, it was not, and while I was on board for the first half – hoping for a big buildup and an even bigger payoff – neither ever appeared, and that was disappointing.

Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern is the author of The Night Circus, a number-one national best seller that has been sold around the world and translated into thirty-seven languages. She has a degree in theater from Smith College and lives in Massachusetts.

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