Do you ever read a book and just feel like giving up on writing because there’s no way you’ll ever capture language and story like that author? Yeah, me too. To no one’s surprise, this is one of many things reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern made me feel.
When Zachary Ezra Rawlins stumbles upon a mysterious book hidden in the stacks of his university, he discovers a story about his own childhood. Desperate for answers, he begins to search for clues that lead him to a masquerade party and then into an ancient library hidden under the earth. As Zachary traverses the twisted labyrinth of the library, secrets and stories of his own life and the history of the library unravel to reveal his purpose.
I don’t feel as if I have the words to truly explain this book. Nothing I write can add to what’s already been said in the countless reviews of this book. So instead of writing a review, I’m just going to share my experience reading this book. Because that is what The Starless Sea is: not a book, but an experience.
At first, I wasn’t sure if I would get through it. The prose is beautiful but the formatting of the book—stories within stories, flashbacks and flash forwards, elements that didn’t seem to connect to anything significant—is hard to grasp and get used to. But it is worth it. This isn’t one of those stories that you can rush through, that you can read for a relaxing afternoon read, that you can glaze over and still get the gist of the story. This is a story you have to pay attention to, even if you still might miss a few things. This is one of those stories you want to reread immediately upon finishing and maybe take out a highlighter or pen or multiple writing utensils and make notes and scribbles and connections just to figure out how everything somehow ties together from the beginning. To understand not just the story, but the mind of the person behind the story.
Erin Morgenstern is known for her complex, beautiful story, The Night Circus, but The Starless Sea is both similar and different to her first book. It’s hard to categorize and harder to recommend to a specific audience because it’s not like anything I’ve read before. Though, if you enjoyed The Night Circus, you will probably enjoy The Starless Sea.
Some people definitely won’t like how long it takes to get to certain parts of the book or how different sections don’t seem to make sense. They won’t like the complexity of everything or the way it ends. While other people will love it to pieces and want to reread it over and over again. But it’s worth attempting to read. Worth experiencing. Worth trying to understand.
Filled with honey-dripping prose, literary references galore, and complex twists and turns, The Starless Sea is one of the most enchanting books I read this year, if not in my life. I’m still trying to figure it out.