Archive for the ‘symbolism’ Tag

Lost in a Land of Books   1 comment

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is a cross between a fairy tale and a video game, with some magic thrown. This requires the ability to suspend one’s sense of disbelief.

Most chapters begin with the name of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a graduate student who finds a mysterious, uncatalogued book in his school library. It’s especially baffling since it’s about him. Alternating chapters relate to a particular story within the found book. Confused yet? I’ll back up. A land, beneath ours, contains an ancient library with guardians who protect the books and the stories they contain. Zachary’s efforts to uncover the book’s meaning take him on adventure where bees, cats, doors, books – lots of books – and swords are important symbols.

Morgenstern creates a literary world unlike any other. It’s dependent on imagination and an appreciation of the different realms books take us to when we read. The writing is rich in visual detail, even if, at times, it doesn’t always make sense. This is similar to what Zachary experiences. He encounters multiple choices in his quest; almost as many subplots presented to the reader trying to fit all the pieces together.

Pirates, a sea of honey, searches for lost loves, artists, friends and mysterious passageways also inhabit the novel. The deeper Zachary goes into what is ultimately a search for the starless sea, the less engaging the narrative becomes. Yes, I wanted to know what was going to happen, but at almost 500 pages, it took too long to find out.

The Starless Sea
Three-and-three-quarter bookmarks
Doubleday, 2019
494 pages


Moving Furniture   Leave a comment

In Great House, Nicole Krauss considers not just how an object is acquir-
ed, but how it is passed on to others. She shows that to bestow and to re-
ceive is not always a welcome, or even happy, occasion.

The novel has multiple characters, but it is really about just one thing: a
desk. Nonetheless, it is transformed from simply being household furniture
to something representing the different traits and lives of its owners. It is
imbued not only with personal histories, but also past world events. In
each of its homes, however, the desk physically overshadows everything
else, so the question that surfaces early on is: why is this particular piece
so important?

I found a lot of similarities between Kraus’s work and Accordion Dreams
by Annie Proulx. Both follow one specific item (in the latter, it’s the title
instrument) and both are haunting. The main difference is that Kraus
shows a connection among the five owners so the result is an amazingly
serendipitous puzzle. Here, Kraus, the author of A History of Love, has
written a fairy tale of sorts. In keeping true to that genre, Great House is
mournful and low on humor.

One problem lies with voice because everyone sounds the same. The pri-
mary distinction among the many narrators is in the descriptions of their
lives, rather than one personality being different from another. It’s the
situation that brings the desk into play and moves the story forward. Ulti-
mately, it’s something inanimate that drives the characters’ experiences.

Great House
Three  Bookmarks
W.W. Norton & Co., 2011
289 pages