The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When Charlie Willet disappears, apparently commits suicide, his wife Marina explores the last couple years of his life, looking for reasons to believe he's still alive. Did Charlie's obsession with the Erotonomicon, the purported story of HP Lovecraft's affair with Robert Barlow, and the web of lies and hoaxes surrounding it lead to his doom?
Even though I rarely take on ARCs anymore, I jumped at the chance to read this one when Penguin offered it to me.
The Night Ocean is a tough book to classify. It's a Russian nesting doll, a Matryoshka, of hoaxes and lies surrounding one man's quest to learn the truth about the Erotonomicon, a book chronicling HP Lovecraft's love life. In some ways, it reminds me of Night Film. In others, of I Am Providence. I was hooked by the brain stem when Lovecraft referred to masturbation as Yog Sothoth.
The tale is part historical novel, part mystery. Marina tries to piece together what Charlie pieced together when he was trying to figure out if the Erotonomicon was a hoax or not. Needless to say, there are a lot of shifting viewpoints.
The Erotonomicon chapters were touching, and sometimes heartbreaking, with young Robert Barlow being in love with H.P. Lovecraft from afar and Lovecraft being unwilling to reciprocate. Well, for the most part...
Marina was playing catch-up for most of the book, much like I was, through a maze of hoaxes and lies, populated by legendary authors like William S. Burroughs, Frederick Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, and many others. She follows Charlie's quest from Mexico to Canada, from Barlow to L.C. Spinks, the Erotonomicon's publisher.
I guess the Night Ocean is about multiple peoples' search for the truth. In this age of "alternative facts", the truth can be hard to come by. By the end of the book, I was almost as in the dark as I was in the beginning. I liked that the ending was ambiguous, however.
While I can't find a nice box to shoe-horn The Night Ocean into, it was a great read, even beautiful at times, surprising considering H.P. Lovecraft's usual subject matter. Four out of five stars.
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