Number 19 read of the year was The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I think we can all foresee that I’m not going to make it to my goal of 52 this year but ohhh well!
An attempt at summarising
So, usually I put that heading as a joke because I’m not very good at summarising book plots but this time I really mean it. I have no idea how to describe the plot of this book to you. I’m fairly sure Erin Morgenstern would have looked like that meme of Charlie from Always Sunny in Philadelphia when she was in the planning stages of this book.
Let’s start with the premise: The Starless Sea is a magical library (I think, there’s a lot of inference being made there because they never explicitly say that), where stories make up the fabric of the library. This library borders The Starless Sea. People enter the Starless Sea through various ‘harbours’, which are doors that appear to them one day.
The main narrative is the story of Zachary Rawlings, first we meet him as he discovers a door to the Starless Sea and chooses not to go through it. Then we see him all grown up, studying the psychology behind story narratives in video games as his thesis in university. He comes across a strange book in the library with no author, which isn’t listed in the system and within this book (sweet sorrows) he reads the very seen we (the reader) witnessed earlier for Zachary as a child finding the door…
Do you see why it’s confusing?
Also, in this book that Zachary finds is stories, which we, the reader, have been given as chapters within the narrative of the Starless Sea. So, putting that confusion aside, we’ll focus on what Zachary does next. He goes in search of someone connected to the Starless Sea, to see if it’s a real place. His only tangible connection is the book he has, which was donated out of a private collection that can’t be traced. The only thing he finds about this mysterious benefactor is that he belonged to a secret organisation. The only thing he discovers about that organisation is the picture of someone wearing a necklace featuring a bee, a key and a sword, which are repeating motifs in the book he has found. This picture was taken at a yearly fundraiser, so he decides to attend this year’s one to find out the truth.
Zachary gets entangled with someone at this party who seems to have his answers, after a series of things happen (which I don’t want to spoil for you!), he finds his way into The Starless Sea with both of his new friends in tow.
Interspersed within over arching Starless Sea narrative, are stories from the book he finds (Sweet Sorrows), plus stories from another book, telling the story of a star crossed couple, from different places within time, who meet within the Starless Sea (the place in this instance, not the narrative) and have a child. There are also generic stories, detailing the various ‘paths’ people used to find to get to the Starless Sea, those who protect the stories, those who curate them, those who write them etc etc – which is heavily linked to the bee, sword and key motifs. We are also told the story of Fate and Time falling in love and being forced apart, with fate being ripped to pieces, behind the moon’s back by the court of owls (I might be misremembering that part).
Somehow this is all related to what is happening to Zachary and the ways the library is changing in the present day.
That’s it, I don’t know how to summarise it more without either ruining it/ I genuinely can’t unpick it any more than that for you.
Now, I have read some pretty nonsensical, deep and layered literature in my time at uni but this one is just layer, over layer, over layer but somehow… despite not fully understanding how we end up where we end up, it takes nothing away from how absolutely amazing this book is.
This book is beautiful. The imagery, the richness of the world, it just immerses you in it. You feel as though you are part of this narrative as the reader, as though Zachary’s story is just another book you would find in the Starless Sea and this is how you’ll find your door. If you have any love for literature and the power of words, you will fall in love with the world in this book.
I would definitely recommend reading this one, particularly if you like dark academia vibes but maybe save it for a holiday when you’re not tired, or reading it in pieces around work.