Thursday, December 19, 2019

Review: THE STARLESS SEA by Erin Morgenstern

Rating: 5/5 stars

“A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun. . . . [Zachary] wonders how, exactly, he is supposed to continue a story he didn’t know he was in.”

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is everything and I love him so much. One day when he was a little boy, he discovered a painted door on the wall behind his mother’s shop, but he didn’t open it. The next day it was gone. Zachary spent many years thinking about this experience until one day he finds a book in his college’s library that has a collection of stories, and one of these stories is about him as a little boy finding a door. Intrigued by this mysterious book that’s older than he is but contains a story about him, Zachary follows clues to find out where this book came from and who wrote it.

The Starless Sea is a love letter to stories and books and all kinds of magical writings. It is a story for story devourers, a book for book lovers. It has so many stories within stories and interweaving threads between those stories, and I cannot express how much I loved every second of it. I knew at less than halfway through this book that it was going to be my favorite book of the year.

One of the best parts about this book is that it takes place in a subterranean library—
Side Note: Erin Morgenstern said in an interview that she doesn’t “want to use the L word for the space that’s in this book” because “it doesn’t really have librarians. So it’s not really a library, because a room with a lot of books in it without librarians is just a room with a lot of books in it.” And I disagree! I think a library IS a room with a lot of books in it. I have a home library: a room with a lot of books in it. One could say that I myself am the librarian of my own personal library, and maybe that’s true, but I still consider it my personal library, not my personal room with books in it. I even just looked up the dictionary definition of library and I more or less got that it’s a “room containing collections of books” etc. but nowhere in any of the definitions I looked up does it say a library has to have a librarian. So I will continue to tell you this book takes place in an underground library. Plus, I also love the L word and I will use it whenever I can.

I don’t even know how to properly review this book because there was just so much going on, so many interconnecting stories and overlapping narratives that I started to lose track of it all. At the beginning, I was really following the story and trying to figure out the clues, but by the end I was just kind of letting the story wash over me and not trying to figure anything out. This is definitely a book I will need to reread to understand everything properly, and I kind of do want to turn around and read it again immediately, but I’m going to save it for next year. I will have forgotten enough by then that some parts will seem new, but I’ll remember enough to put the pieces together from the beginning without waiting for the whole picture to be revealed.

This book is very quotable. I can’t tell you how many sentences I wrote down because I didn’t want to forget them. The prose is truly stunning. Just like The Night Circus, The Starless Sea is also so beautifully written. This is a book I want to read again and again, and it’s the kind of book that will get better and better each time.

I loved both Zachary’s story and the many other stories within this book. I was very pleased that we got to actually read the many stories within the different books mentioned in The Starless Sea, so this was truly a book of many stories. I didn’t expect to love it this much but it was beautiful. The prose was ethereal and magical and breathtaking. I loved the motifs we see throughout the story of the obvious bee, key, and sword, and also of the heart, feather, and crown. I also loved the commentary on and references to video games interspersed throughout the novel. I just loved everything, okay?

“Reading a novel, he supposes, is like playing a game where all the choices have been made for you ahead of time by someone who is much better at this particular game.”

As soon as I finished this book, I immediately read The Night Circus because I needed more of Erin Morgenstern’s beautiful writing. While I loved that book also, I loved The Starless Sea even more. I’m running out of adjectives to use but this book was truly breathtakingly beautiful and atmospheric and perfect for me. If you like stories about stories, folklore, mythology, mysterious doors, key collectors, men with owl heads, masquerade balls, ice sculptures that speak, bees the size of dogs, lakes of honey, and rooms of books, you need to read this book. I know her flowing writing style isn’t going to work for everyone, but everything about it worked for me. This book has become one of my new favorite books ever.

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