The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern (2019)

"Stories are a communal currency of humanity." --Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights

This is a story of doors and those who dare to seek those doors which open to things not understood or that embark the traveler upon journeys not anticipated . A door has so many potentials. We open them to enter those arts of or lives that cannot be contained and controlled behind them. We close them to provide safety and shelter, establishing boundaries and separations through which we believe our defined space becomes our own unique existence. We lock them to keep our secrets and treasures safe from others just as we leave them open to welcome those things into our lives that we most desire or cherish.

As Morgensten writes: “It is easier to be in love in a room with closed doors. To have the whole world in one room. One person. The universe condensed and intensified and burning, bright and alive and electric.”

We open the cover (or perhaps the door) of the Starless Sea and in doing so first enter the world of Zachary Ezra Rawlings. Zachary is our contemporary hero cast in the trappings of the millennial. A young man of unorthodox beginnings. He is an intelligent or even perhaps brilliant young man who is pursuing that uniquely millennial learning through the vehicle of a doctorate ….gaming. Introverted, shy and with few friends he is perhaps accepting of the nature of his self as he believes it to be. The reader feels a sense of the loneliness and segregation he exists in whilst nurturing the manner in which he wish’s to express his homosexuality and his pursuit of love in the somewhat aerated world of academia. This is our lead character and certainly he is not the hard boiled Matthew Scudder of Lawrence Block nor Allnutt of the African Queen. No brooding silences here, no stoic featured five o’clock shadow wearing characters of Hemingway’s “men without women”. However, he shares their courage and inquisitiveness and is motivated by crushes on those whose sheer dazzling style and brilliance captivate all men and women.

Zachary’ adventure begins in the reading of “Sweet Sorrows” . A book in which an episode of his own life is clearly articulated by the anonymous author. An experience so profound that it awakens in him a bravery and a thirst for adventure. Through a web of complex and dazzling characters that range from the mysterious and alluring gumshoe to the magnificent and magical warrior princess we follow Zachary through various doors and incidents that take him to a time / land where all stories are held forever and where a starless sea exists as a reminder of a time and place when “Occasionally, Fate pulls itself together again and Time is always waiting.”.

In this place we find a love story. A love between Time and Fate, the Sun and the Moon and a most importantly the love of a story teller. One who spends every moment of his life writing the story that recreates the magic of a great lost love. Or is it that his lost love has long since been replaced by his passion for the writing of the story ? For what love could ever emulate the one created by the writer, equally tragic and successful. Beautiful beyond comparison and heart wrenching by the necessity of holding such a love above and beyond any other thing.

This is a story about stories. But having accepted that, it is a story without any great meaning or philosophical learning for mankind. We love our tales. Long before the cave paintings, long before the printing press or the tablet people told their stories to record their life passing, or too entertain themselves and their fellows, or to help a child to sleep or a sick relative to ease their way. Its all of our stories and none of our stories. The “villains” of this book are identifiable only because of their conflict with our hero and his cadre. Their cause seems as righteous as any in the book. Indeed our Zachry and his various comrades seem to have very little foundation to their cause other than their own enjoyment in the pursuit of vain interests and urges. No, there is no great message here, but there is an entertaining, sometimes intriguing and complex storyline. It is of time and space, of the supernatural and unlikely and if we are willing to take the time, a journey for the reader to those creations of the storyteller where one can almost believe that what we see and touch everyday may not be all that there is to our world. It’s a ride on the ghost train, a ticket to the Lord of the Rings at Greater Union, a chorus from Bowies Space Oddity or Starman. And for those elements, I one for one enjoyed a trip to The Starless Sea.

Tony O'Donnell (Petersham Chapter)