Updated: Oct 26, 2022
Erin Morgenstern Tackles Time in Sumptuous Fantasy Novel
THE STARLESS SEA
by Erin Morgenstern
"A boy at the beginning of a story has no way of knowing that the story has begun."
Writing this review was challenging, to say the least. Mainly because I’m still stewing in my thoughts about the book and planning a reread sooner rather than later. It’s the sort of book you get so caught up in that you get lost. At least I did. While knowing it was brilliant, I’m struggling to tell you why. To be sure, Morgenstern is a masterful writer. There was something of an out-of-body experience where I could see the dynamic use of literary techniques, but it all felt secondary to the intricately woven stories. (Which, of course, was the point).
Relegating The Starless Sea to simply a fantasy novel doesn't do it justice; it is its own beast. This work is a delicious fantastical stew of existentialism, and folklore, with a pinch of romance. It's a book that will have you lost in your thoughts days after its completion. Morgenstern writes in such a way it is hard to believe there isn't some shadowy society of story-keepers.
Our protagonist, Zachary Ezra Rawlings, is incredibly ordinary. He’s a grad student, an introvert, and friendly. Then slowly, his world is upended by a chance encounter with a book in his school library. We know he’s a central character: the book makes it clear he must be. But the story moves around him rather than having him act as the catalyst. It was a unique and refreshing take on the hero’s arc so commonly found in sweeping epics.
I loved this novel’s endless juxtapositions, particularly its approach to time. Time is a character. It moves quickly, slowly, and not at all. Time is treated as tangible and elusive, which is precisely how most of us perceive it. It was interesting to see it used in these variable circumstances rather than a constant. The word that kept circulating in my mind during this novel was cerebral. For whatever else this novel is, it is undoubtedly an ode to storytelling.
I highly recommend getting the audiobook version -- as the casting is perfect. (Although I did a combination of the e-book and audiobook).
What are your favorite mind-bending novels? Comment Below!