The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. (Frankly, I’m not sure I entirely get it.)

It’s a litmus test: If you believe enough to try to open a painted door you’re more likely to believe in wherever it leads. (p. 154)

I loved The Night Circus, and I loved The Starless Sea. Erin Morgenstern creates worlds within worlds, multi-layered and multi-faceted, such that I don’t expect to have everything tie completely together until the bitter end.

Maybe that’s the problem. I should read as Murakami has said, “Wide open to possibilities.”

I am open, I am sure about that. I embrace the doors both painted in trompe l’oiel and free standing. I adore keys hanging from ribbons in the collector’s garden, and other ribbons (entwined around bodies) with stories written on them. I admire a home filled with books, and wine bottles, and teacups, and air smelling like smoke and honey. I have folded myriads of paper stars, well aware of their magical qualities, and I’m thrilled about the adventure of visiting the Harbor by the Starless Sea, or taking a boat through blue confetti.

Her novel is an imaginative dream.

But, between the dollhouse, and the Harbor, and the burning buildings, a sea made of golden honey, and the way that Fate and Time fell in love, I’m a little bewildered.

I only know that Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a fortune-teller, found Sweet Sorrows in the university library (by fate?) and thus set out on a search to find out more about himself. (In that sense, The Starless Sea can be universal: don’t we all long to know more about ourselves, such as what the past has meant and what the future will bring? These things are not for us to know, necessarily, but I wonder if that’s not a large reason why I keep such in-depth Traveler’s Notebooks.)

In the course of his quest he comes across many characters beginning with Mirabel, dressed as Max from Where The Wild Things Are, at a ball. He meets Dorian, with whom he falls in love. And, he is missing from the ‘real world’ for days as he searches behind doors (regretting the red painted one he never opened as a child), drinks unknown liquids labeled with directions to partake, and throws six dice which all land on Hearts.

There are references to Alice in Wonderland, of course, and many other beloved novels. I kept track of most of them as I read, finding: The Catcher in The Rye; The Shadow of The Wind; The Long Goodbye; Playback; The Big Sleep; The Age of Fable, or Beauties of Mythology; This Side of Paradise; The Princess Bride; The Shining; King Lear, a Wrinkle in Time; The Secret History.

I will be sailing The Starless Sea for a long time in my mind, settling on this dialogue as I ponder an oft repeated phrase within this novel:

“To Seeking,” the Star Merchant said as their wine was refilled.

”To Finding,” came the traditional response. (p. 114)

(Find a wonderful review from Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays here.)