The Starless Sea: Land of Books and Honey

The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern

“Not all stories speak to all listeners, but all listeners can find a story that does, somewhere, sometime. In one form or another.”

This sentence in The Starless Sea is writer Erin Morgenstern taunting the reader. “Read my book. Find your story. Come on. I dare you”, Morgenstern challenges. There are so many stories told in her follow-up novel to The Night Circus that it would be impossible not to keep one or two of them with you for a time, or to break out in case of emergency.

In simplest terms, this is a story about Zachary Ezra Rowlins —son of a fortune-teller—who as a child has a chance to walk through a door drawn on a wall. He doesn’t (why, Zachary Ezra Rowlins, why!). Later, as a grad student working on his thesis on video games, he happens upon a rare book called Sweet Sorrows that tells of this moment, written years before he was born. It also tells the tale of an underground library governed by people who have the toughest interview process EVER. Now he needs answers, so like a character in a choose your own adventure novel, he starts his. This leads him to a literary ball, which leads him to commit book theft, which leads him to an underground library where he finds books, nightmares folded away in stars and tossed away, new friends, lover, and enemies caught up in their own unfolding stories, and a seemingly excellent and helpful kitchen. Thus he has begun his fated journey to find the Starless Sea made of honey.

Sure, that sure may seem straightforward enough, but added in are stories upon fables upon myths layered in symbolism, keys, and bunny masks. Morgenstern has created her own mythology about pirates, the sun and the moon, an Owl King, and honey, lots and lots of honey. But she also keeps the story rooted in today. Zackary likes to drink fancy cocktails, his only friend in the real world knits him a Ravenclaw scarf. They eat bacon-wrapped dates. These stories defy logic but that’s ok because these worlds mocks logic. These stories are here to tell you something, but that is up to you to figure it out. Morgenstern is not going to tell you and that is a good thing.


I would be remiss if I did not mention Carmen Maria Machado’s, In The Dream House, released this week. Machado did not think there were enough books written about abuse that can happen in queer relationships; so she wrote about what happened to her. Each chapter of this book is written in its own narrative trope such as Creature Feature, Stoner Comedy, Gaslight. In Dream House as Haunted Mansion, Machado writes, “In this way Dream House was a haunted house. You were the sudden, inadvertent occupant of a place where bad things happen.” As the book is written in the second person, you will feel that you are living in the Dream House itself, choosing with Carmen not to go into the basement because there are really big spiders down there, or feeling scrutinized as she stares at you. This may not be the most comfortable read but it is important and captivating, and the most inventive book you will read all year.






The City & The City Books Happenings

Wednesday, Nov 20th from 6:30 – 7:30pm
Book Club: The Amateurs by Liz Harmer
@ The Hearty Hooligan 292 Ottawa St. North

Thursday, November 28th from 7-9 pm
Reading and Q&A with Jessica Westhead and Sara Heinonen, moderated by James Grainger
@ The City & The City Books 181 Ottawa St. North

Thursday, December 12th from 7-9 pm
Book Launch for When Poverty Mattered: Then and Now Paul Weinberg in conversation with Don Wells
@ Merk Snack Bar 189 Ottawa St. North

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