The Starless Sea
This book is either totally brilliant or just plain bizarre, depending on where you’re coming from and what kind of books you like. Most of the reviews from book critics are of the first school. I’m of the second.
Actually, I take that back. I do see the brilliance of THE STARLESS SEA. The prose is simple but magnificent, the descriptions absolutely gorgeous. This is a book whose pages are filled with one phantasmagorical twist after another. The author’s imagination is beyond beyond beyond, and the plotting is deep and dramatic. I am truly in awe of Ms. Morgenstern for all that. It’s certainly why I give this book 4 stars, though I did spend much of my reading time thinking, What the hell is going on here?
The premise is that a young college student in Vermont opens a strange, undocumented book at the library and reads his own story inside, starting with a seminal event in his childhood, a door that may or may not have existed but that he chose not to open. As the story progresses, he opens and passes through many doors, each leading to something intellectually rewarding and physically challenging. Most of the places he visits have to do with books. There is definitely an Alice in Wonderland feel here. There is also the sense of a video game, wherein one response calls up another.
Did I understand this whole book? Nope. Reading THE STARLESS SEA is like reading a string of intricately entwined fairy tales. This book is long, and I listened to it (all 18 hours and 37 minutes). There were many different readers, which helped. Still, I struggled at the fifteen-hour point to remember a brief story that was told at the three-hour point. A book might have given me the option of flipping back and forth to reread an earlier passage.
That said, I did listen from start to finish. And I did enjoy it. There was something soothing in the voices, something hypnotic in the writing. Some of the reviews suggest that THE STARLESS SEA is a book you need to read more than once. I simply don’t have the time to do that.
That said, I’m tempted to go back to Ms. Morgenstern’s only other book, THE NIGHT CIRCUS, which was written and published nearly a decade ago. I tried it then but didn’t stick with it. Bearing in mind that some of the reviewers felt that one, while fantasy-based as well, was more accessible, I may give it another shot.