Book Review – The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

books, reviews

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I hadn’t read anything by Erin Morgenstern when I bought a copy of The Starless Sea. I had owned a copy of The Night Circus and figured it would be something I enjoyed. It was just that constant struggle to actually read it. So buying a copy of The Starless Sea could have been slightly foolhardy. However, once again, I was drawn in by a gorgeous edition. Waterstones released special editions of both books and I had to have them. Guys, they had sprayed or stencilled edges. How could I not? As I’d treated myself to them, I was a bit worried about how much I would like them. I decided it was better to just never find out, so they remained unread. Until this year when I found the audiobook on my library app. I decided it was finally time to cross it off my TBR.

Reviewing a book can sometimes be a tricky thing. It’s fine if you love or hate a book. You know what you want to do. It’s the books that fall in the middle that cause problems. What do you do if you think a writer is good but that the story they’ve written just isn’t for you? That’s the issue that I have with The Starless Sea. It’s not that I think she’s a bad writer. A lot of her prose is beautiful and she creates some striking imagery. For a large part of this book, I was totally on board with where the story was going. I quite liked the characters and I didn’t even mind the structure. It was a fascinating world and I was keen to find out more. Then I just lost it. I lost my enjoyment and I lost my way. Finishing it started to feel like a chore instead of an enjoyable reading experience.

There was a point when the lyrical language became a distraction for the lack of direction. The story didn’t really seem to be going anywhere. I’m normally the kind of reader who is fine with books that don’t focus on plot but I missed it here. There wasn’t the focus on character development necessary to take its place. The Starless Sea implied that it would take us into a magical and beautiful fantasy world. I thought the characters were going to be interesting but, after a while, they simply existed. There wasn’t a lot of growth or development. The LGBTQ+ elements stood out but gay shouldn’t be a person’s only character trait.

For me, it just felt that this book was trying too hard. It was ambitious, which is obviously something to praise. I just think it’s possibly a bit too ambitious. Too ambitious for this reader at least. The language was beautiful but I can’t say that it helped the story. It just seemed like an easy way to elevate a pretty basic and thin story. What started off as engaging became a way to distract from the lack of substance. Similarly, the structure, which started off as interesting, simply created confusion. The main narrative is split up by fragments of different texts. It starts off as creating intrigue and mystery but ends up just distracting from the main story. By the last few sections, I was just a bit lost. I don’t think that I would have finished the book if I hadn’t been listening to the audiobook.

I can see why people like this book because it’s obvious that Erin Morgenstern is a good writer. It’s a beautiful and slightly dreamy narrative that could sweep you away if you let it. However, this isn’t the kind of book that will work for everyone. It didn’t have enough to keep me engaged and it ended up being a slight muddle. It’s long but the story doesn’t exactly justify the length. There are too many crossed strands and the structure doesn’t make it easy to immerse yourself in any of them. There are some fantastic ideas at work here but I’m just not the right reader for this book. I’m still interested in reading more from this writer but I can’t say that this became a firm favourite.

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