I truly don’t know how I feel about this one. My first read of 2020 and I feel like I’m stunned into a kind of awed stupor, because I can’t figure out exactly what just happened and what I just read. Going for 3 stars for the pretty, wildly vivid writing. I just...can’t seem to latch on to much else that I actually enjoyed here.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins once made the decision not to open a door, and now, a grad student studying story and video games, he stumbles across an unmarked book in his campus library. Drawn to its pages, he discovers that he is in it, that his past self is discussed in its pages. He is soon drawn into a world of mysterious doorways, rogue assassins, subterranean libraries, and seas made of substances other than water - but how? How can it be real? For a man who loves stories more than reality, he should know: everything is real because everything is a story.

This sounds so cool, and for the first 100-ish pages, even as far as 200, I was captivated. Who are these people fighting for or against the Harbor on the Starless Sea? Who is Zachary, who is Dorian, who are Mirabel and Simon and Eleanor and do they actually exist?

But then...I got frustrated.

Don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely stunning in terms of writing. Erin Morgenstern is truly a master of language. This is a love letter to reading and stories and escapism disguised as a novel. For those of us who grew up in worlds like Hogwarts and Narnia and Middle Earth, it’s perfectly logical to think that a character would stumble into one of them and never want to leave.

But I genuinely want to know how this is 500 pages when basically nothing happens. And then when it seems like something might actually be solid, grabbable, like a life raft in a sea of honey, it all just evaporates. Where is the plot? What are we reading for? Why is everything so complicated?

It’s like as readers, we’re just supposed to go along for the ride with this one, and for a while, I could. I didn’t hate this, and I know people find meaning in stories like this one because of the experiences they have reading them. But for me, the ethereal nature of the whole thing went beyond fun Alice in Wonderland frivolity to nothing making sense.

I have taken way too many English classes. I can see this becoming a classic, one of those books celebrated for its use of language and its extended metaphors and deeper meaning. I can see it, but I can’t say that I necessarily enjoyed it. I see its merits, but it’ll be one that I will say I’m glad to have read...and leave on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

librarianjessicaboorsma's rating:
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