Thoughts on The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

As someone who once (maybe still?) had aspirations of being a writer, there are books I read that make me think, “I could totally do this.”  And then there are books like The Starless Sea.

I have all sorts of thoughts on this book.  I will share some of them here.  And then I’m going to do another post when I actually finish the book.StarlessSea

You:  Gasp!

Me:  I know.  Sad face.  

I’m, like, not the kind of book blogger that gets ARCs.  I’m the kind of book blogger that is sorta all over the place in terms of genres, a lazy kind of blogger that loves to blog when I’m not working full time.  There’s entire websites dedicated to requesting ARCs; I just don’t do it.  I get e-books from the library.   E-books on loan, well….they expire.

My loan of The Starless Sea expired when I was juuuuussssst about finished.  

You:  Gasp! Shriek! Shudder!

Me:  I know.  Face palm.

This is really poor planning on my part and all kinds of ughs.  But it’s actually a good thing too.  You see, I have lots of thoughts about The Starless Sea, so many that I was considering a multi-part book review anyway.  And it’s a *complicated* story, one which I am sure will benefit from re-reading when the paperback comes out in August 2020.

So.  My thoughts on The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern: Part 1.

From the publisher:

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.

Thought #1:  This Book is So Meta

I mentioned earlier that The Starless Sea is complicated.  Its complexity comes from the interweaving of the main action of the story—of Zachary Ezra Rawlins (ZER) and his finding of the ancient hidden library upon the Starless Sea—with stories from a few books in the library, stories whispered at parties, stories experienced from ingesting food or drink.  Story itself, as a creative device, is the story.   

ZER is an avid reader, as are most (all?) of the other characters, so there are many literary allusions, from Harry Potter to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History  (and the “bird one”).  As a book nerd, I loved all of it.  The book felt like a love letter to stories, with a fist bump to gaming stories.  Sadly, I’m not a gamer, so those references were a little lost on me, but you can tell Morgenstern loves literature and gaming both.

Thought #2:  I Want That Cocktail

Morgenstern successfully weaves food and drink, tastes and textures and smells, into the stories to evoke the settings and emotions and make them feel more real for the reader.  Alas, if only they WERE real.  ZER’s drink of choice is a Sidecar without the sugared rim.  Yum.  His friend Kat whips up a Clover Club because she has eggs out already for a cookie recipe (the cookie type escapes me, but I immediately googled the cocktail—again, yum).  

Every time I came across a food or beverage description in the book, I thought, “The Wine Lovers Book Club MUST read this…and eat and drink these things….”.  

Here’s a taste of what I mean.  ZER and Kat are with another friend at a bar, talking about stories and gamers:

“She needs gateway games,” Kat says, and between cocktail sips and bacon-wrapped dates and balls of fried goat cheese dipped in lavender honey they assemble a list of games that Lexi might like…

Yes.  All of that.

Thought #3:  Should There Be More Punctuation in that Sentence?

We’ve all read books that would have benefited from more careful attention from their editors.  Sentences that don’t quite make sense or a missing comma here and there. That is not the issue here.  In fact, I’m not really sure there is an issue, other than Morgenstern’s style includes sentences that meander a bit.  

For example:

He stands up, worried he might pass out and thinking he might open the window and instead he kicks over his forgotten mug of cocoa.

My impression is that Morgenstern takes some license with language, but I don’t mind it, as it reinforces the whimsical style of her writing.  It’s a little how our brains work, not so linear but moving about to ideas and topics tangentially like a crack in a windshield that spreads up and over and out.

That is all for now.

Those are my top three thoughts about the book.  So far—and remember, I’m 95% of the way through—I really like the book, but I’m going to reserve my overall rating until I’ve finished and then I’ll share it with you in Part 2 of my review.  

Until then, story on.

Note:  When I was proofreading this post, I did a little googling (“Morgenstern + gaming”) and came across an interview with Morgenstern that I want to reference in Part 2.  If you never get to Part 2 (or I don’t), feel free to read it now.  Reading it after I wrote the post made me think…yeah, that’s what I thought!

Titles Mentioned


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