On the last day of work before Christmas break, one of our much-loved colleagues was retiring and each of us was asked to provide a couple of book recommendations. Choosing novels was simple enough, after all, I had just finished The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, but as I sat there, trying to think how best to describe it, I found myself dumbfounded.
It’s easy enough to say that this novel falls into the realm of magic realism, but when you try to really describe what happens within its pages, well, you risk sounding like some kind of madwoman. Readers of the Morgenstern’s earlier novel The Night Circus will already be familiar with this feeling, but it’s difficult to describe. How can you love a story so much, but be hard placed to summarize it? When you find yourself discussing it, you talk about books, the loss of time, love, keys, cats, hares and honeybees. You ramble on and yet, tell no one anything really useful.
I suppose what I want to say is – most importantly – that this is a second novel, every bit as good as its predecessor. The story is just as strange and yet also entirely different. If I had to liken it to any other novel I’ve reviewed recently, then reluctantly, I would say The Ten Thousand Doors of January as both stories feature doors to other realities, but that is where all comparisons end and it feels facile to even write that much. To read The Starless Sea is like inhabiting a stranger’s dream, it has that same ethereal quality, but is nothing like the reality my mind makes up each night.
You really do have to willingly suspend disbelief to venture into Morgenstern’s world, but it’s so worth doing and the next time I ever see a door painted on a wall, I’m trying the handle.