The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge

The Night Ocean

Paul La Farge

The Night Ocean is about love and deception -- about the way that stories earn our trust, and betray it.

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From the award-winning author and New Yorker contributor, a riveting novel about secrets and scandals,  psychiatry and pulp fiction, inspired by the lives of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle.

Marina Willett, M.D., has a problem. Her husband, Charlie, has become obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft, in particular with one episode in the legendary horror writer's life: In the summer of 1934, the "old gent" lived for two months with a gay teenage fan named Robert Barlow, at Barlow's family home in central Florida. What were the two of them up to? Were they friends--or something more? Just when Charlie thinks he's solved the puzzle, a new scandal erupts, and he disappears. The police say it's suicide. Marina is a psychiatrist, and she doesn't believe them.

A tour-de-force of storytelling, The Night Ocean follows the lives of some extraordinary people: Lovecraft, the most influential American horror writer of the 20th century, whose stories continue to win new acolytes, even as his racist views provoke new critics; Barlow, a seminal scholar of Mexican culture who killed himself after being blackmailed for his homosexuality (and who collaborated with Lovecraft on the beautiful story "The Night Ocean"); his student, future Beat writer William S. Burroughs; and L.C. Spinks, a kindly Canadian appliance salesman and science-fiction fan -- the only person who knows the origins of The Erotonomicon, purported to be the intimate diary of Lovecraft himself.

As a heartbroken Marina follows her missing husband's trail in an attempt to learn the truth, the novel moves across the decades and along the length of the continent, from a remote Ontario town, through New York and Florida to Mexico City. The Night Ocean is about love and deception -- about the way that stories earn our trust, and betray it.

Advance Galley Reviews

I was so excited to get a copy of this book to read. So I was very disappointed that I didn't love this book. At first this book was hard to get into. I found at times I didn't want to pick it up but then there were moments when I didn't want to put it down. Overall I liked some aspects of this book but somethings could've been better. I wanted this book to be more in depth but it was well written. Thank you to first to read for my advanced copy.

An average book for me...I literally forced myself to comply it to write this review positively but couldn't...

I had a difficult time getting into this book. Overall, it was a decent read, but not my favorite.

The Night Ocean was hit or miss for me. I found some parts fascinating and some parts really dragged. The story is layered and some layers were more interesting than others. The outer layer was the wife of a writer, Marina, who uncovered the HP Lovecraft story and her following in his footsteps to discover why he killed himself or if he did. Then there was the writer, Charlie's story, about his investigation into HP Lovecraft' s life and affairs, Then the Barlow and HP Lovecraft story line and finally after that is proved to be hoax the Spinks story line. It sound confusing but it was not hard to keep track of, the problem was the level of interest I had in each story. I had the most interest in the outer Marina shell and the HP Lovecraft and Barlow story. However, the Barlow after Lovecraft and Spinks story lines really dragged for me, creating a very uneven and ultimately dissatisfying reading experience. There is some interesting quasi-historical HP Lovecraft information that may interest fans, but otherwise I would generally not recommend this book to most of my reading friends.

This book just did not do it for me. There were too many parts that I felt dragged and I thought didn't need to be there. I really enjoyed the concept and there were many parts I did like, but I'm not sure that I can say I liked the book. I really wanted to, but I can't.

I really enjoyed parts of this book, and found it easy to read, but it felt at times as if the layering that was there was more than needed, or longer than needed at least, just for the sake of it. I enjoyed much of the first 2/3 of the book and thought it moved at a good clip but the LC Spinks section at the end really brought the tempo to a grind. I just wanted to be over wit that part and when it finished I did not feel like it was worth the effort. What it seemed like the author wanted could have been achieved with part, but not all, of that long detour. It started very strong, wasn't bad, and I'd give the author a second chance because it was generally well written.

I wanted this to go much deeper than it did, but it wasn't to be. Though a readable book, I was not able to enjoy it.

This was a great story about truth. It reminded me of George Costanza's wisdom from Seinfeld: "It's not a lie if you believe it." I liked that one of the "truths" in the story was a scifi truth about souls being able to inhabit other bodies. I thought it was really interesting how La Farge took historical figures whose personal lives are a little vague and tell multiple versions of their lives that may or may not be true but are never actually presented as facts. I really like this technique. The book also made me want to re-read my collection of Lovecraft works.

I had mixed feelings about this book. While I overall enjoyed the style of writing and how the book covered a multitude of storylines, there were times where I felt there was so much detail about the mundane that it made the story drag on. While the psychological twists were interesting, finding out entire sections turned out to be complete lies was a little disheartening and made me not want to believe anything going further; and with good reason! There was no resolution in regards to Charlie or Spinks and I found the ending to be quite a letdown. Maybe the fact I have no knowledge, or for that matter any interest whatsoever, in Lovecraft hinders me from the beginning.

As a fan of H.P. Lovecraft I was intrigued by the premise of "The Night Ocean". But you know what they say - never meet your heroes. If the story of HPL's life, intertwined with the drama and mystery presented in this book is true, then I am very sad. Granted, I didn't know anything about Lovecraft's personal life before this book but now I wish I never had. He evidently was (or may have been) a very odd individual, as are most of the characters in La Farge's novel. Deceit, deception and depression run through the narrative. If only there was an answer given to the question of Charlie's death/disappearance. Or was there? I'll never know.

Received an ARC for an unbiased review of THE NIGHT OCEAN by Paul La Farge. This is not a book one can pick up and put down to come back to in a few days, nor is it really a book one can read in a location where there are much distractions. I would find myself having to back up over a few pages to try to remember the where/who/what of the current place in the book. La Farge has a unique writing style, intertwining the voices of several narrators almost seamlessly, allowing us to believe, as readers, that an entire section is true, only to be told in the next section, that large pieces of it fact...a lie. It was an absolute mindfuck and totally worth the time it took to read it.

The idea for this book was intriguing and I couldn't wait to read it, but the actual book was a bit of a letdown. It was difficult to follow at times and rereading areas didn't help them to make sense. The plot of the book seemed to get a bit lost in all the 'extras' the other felt the need to add and generally made this book very long and boring to get through. I felt like this had a lot of potential, right up until I started reading. The narration through Marina, while sort of representing the views of a grieving person in their focus, was very, how to say this, boring and detracting from the idea of the stories within the book.

This is one of the few books that I've read on first to read that I really had trouble getting through. Since I am not familiar with HP Lovecraft, I think that may have been what made it so difficult for me. I found it confusing, a bit disjointed and not something that I would care enough about to commit time to better understanding.

The blurb for this book pulled me in. I enjoy a good mystery, and this looked like one with a bit of a psychological twist. But this did not deliver what I felt the blurb promised. Instead, I feel like I got a somewhat confusing mishmash of several different stories, one of which dragged on and seemed to detract from the main plot described in the book's blurb. This book could probably be about half of its length and be more effective in telling the story of Charlie and Marina. And with the long journey to the end, the way it resolves proved to be a bit of a letdown for me.

Ahhh the first book I couldn't get through. I made it almost 100 pages in, but alas, it just doesn't strike my fancy. The novel, while very well written, is confusing at best. In the first relative 100 pages you meet 2 people who are then relatively abandoned for the story telling of HP Lovecraft, who previous to this novel I had only ever heard of a few times. I will go along with the other reviews and say that if you are a Lovecraft fan you will find more satisfaction in this book.

Like some of Paul La Farge's other books, it is often hard to tell what the boundaries between fact and fiction are in this novel. He writes a slippery sort of historical fiction, made more so by the elusiveness of most of the characters in this novel and by the multiple layers of story and the challenge of untangling who is telling each particular piece. This book requires a patient reader, but it rewards that reader, too, as it gradually overlaps the layers.

I quite enjoy a 'story within a story' and this device in 'The Night Ocean' drew me into the book.I did find the plot took some concentration as it is quite dense.However I also like this in a way-the references to different places and times adds interest for me and I felt as though I was learning more along the way. After reading this I would be interested in more from the author.

I think this book was written well, I just don't think this book was right for me. To, me the book seemed to dragged quite a bit. I was a third of a way into the book, and I still wasn't sure what the book was about. I still wasn't sure by the end of the book. After reading the last page, I thought to myself "that's it???" What did I read? What was this book really about. Maybe I just didn't "get it".

I'm gonna be honest and admit this book confused me. I think it's been a while since I've read a book that I just feel indifferent about. I didn't hate it but I didn't really love it either. I read it pretty fast which is saying a lot because it's about 400 pages and it's pretty dense material. Apparently there was something driving me to finish it and I never even wished I could DNF it. This book is basically three different tales. Marina Willett is a psychiatrist and is married to Charlie, an author who writes about people. Charlie becomes obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and sets off to write a bestseller about his inappropriate relationship with a 17 year old, Robert Barlow. Charlie locates Barlow, who had previously faked his death, and with his interviews, the book becomes a giant success. However, shortly thereafter, scandal hits and people start speculating that Barlow is actually L.C. Spinks, an individual out to tarnish Lovecraft's reputation. When everything blows up, Charlie ends up hospitalized and eventually commits suicide, although a body is never found. Marina, who loves her husband despite his numerous flaws, doesn't believe Charlie is actually dead so she starts investigating herself. The first 100 pages or more of this book is all about Lovecraft and Barlow. Through the pages of a fictional book "The Erotonomicon," the reader learns all about Lovecraft's strengths, weaknesses and his love life. I found these pages somewhat hard to get through and because the terms describing sexual acts are from Lovecraft's books, I felt a tad in the dark. After that, the book moves to Marina investigating Charlie's disappearance. I enjoyed this part of the tale so much more because I liked Marina's voice and I actually felt more connection to her than any other character in the book. Finally, through Marina's investigation, we learn about Spinks and what Charlie learned from him that possessed him to take his life. For people who find the "fake news" stories of today fascinating, this will more than likely be an enjoyable book. The mystery in this tale is pretty unsatisfying and I would be hesitant to classify it as such. To be honest, this book is pretty hard to classify in general. I'm not sure who to recommend it to but I'm sure fans of Lovecraft will be curious what it is all about and will find some worth in picking it up. I don't regret reading it because it's nice to read outside one's comfort zone, but I would never pick it up again.

The Night Ocean is an incredible book. I know little to nothing about H.P Lovecraft, yet I was captivated from the very first page. It's hard to classify this book into a specific genre—it's part biography, part mystery, part fantasy—and you never really know which storyline falls into which category. In the beginning, I found myself asking, what plot points are true? By the end, I was asking, what is truth? This book is a mind-blower, for sure!

This was my first free copy of a "first to read" book. I am quite sorry to say that I was not a fan. I tried to power through it, but I found it difficult to follow. There were far too many footnotes and "name dropping," I struggled to remain attentive to what was going on and its relavence. I think I would have enjoyed this book much more if I were an H.P. Lovecraft fan.

This book is definitely not for everybody and the reaction of many reviewers is not surprising. It helps to have some interest in Lovecraft and the people of his orbit and history to get full enjoyment out of it. It also helps to be able to suspend your judgment and be ready for some mind-blowing plot twists and turns, and be prepared to be a bit disoriented. I am a lifelong Lovecraft fan and was always intrigued by the historical figure of R.H. Barlow, so even before reading it I figured this would a treat at best and interesting at worst. My overall assessment after reading it is "mind blowing". It is very difficult to keep track of what's true and what's not, and the story is full of such incredibly rich and believable detail -- weaving in and out of history and fiction with such facility that you are left feeling confused and a bit manipulated -- yet at the same time incredulous and full of wonder at the tapestries of interlocking tale-telling in this story of bizarre personalities, arcane obsessions and life-altering mystery. The writing is remarkable. I just wish I didn't still have so many questions. Was the story of the 'Erotonomicon' hoax from the 50's and its effect on Lovecraft's reputation partially true or wholly invented? How much of L.C. Spinks' story, told as Barlow, is based on fact and how much is pure invention? It all seems so real. This is the unique and remarkable nature of this book. I have never read anything else quite like it. Thank you to Penguin's First to Read program for the opportunity to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

My takeaway from this read is, at any given time, I could not distinguish fact and reality from fiction and lies. I struggled to reach the end. Perhaps because I just don't give a hoot about Lovecraft's sexuality. Is he is or is he isn't? I went off to review his life details, to see if that would help me. Nope. It is a clever premise, those devotees of the great man who tried to love him, literally and figuratively, but they, too, were accomplished at making up stories to push themselves ahead. The language fools me. It reads like a matter-of-fact history of these men and their times. Bottom line, I remain confused about the truth interwoven in this creative package, I am not certain whether to recommend this book or not. My thanks to the author and the Penguin First to Read program for a complimentary copy.

Paul La Farge’s The Night Ocean has left me conflicted. On the one hand, it has so much of what I typically love in a novel: mystery, philosophy, literary references, meta elements, and musings on self and identity. And yet. And yet I’m left with the feeling that this book was trying to be so many things at once that it lost its own identity along the way. It’s equally hard for me to reconcile the fact that I don’t think La Farge is a bad writer and I could easily pull a handful of stellar quotes from the text, but something about the overall novel didn’t jive with me. I was engrossed at the start and curious to see where the mystery of Charlie Willett’s disappearance would lead, but then as I got further into the book the story got further away from Charlie and down a rabbit hole of H.P. Lovecraft “periphera” and figures that I had to keep googling to see if they were real or fictitious. (It should be noted that I’ve only read two of Lovecraft’s stories and, while I love SFF, I’m not expert on the key players of early SFF fandom / literary circles.) It’s also not lost on me that the intent was to perhaps have the reader feel as I do appreciate the commentary this novel makes on stories: how they shape us as much as they are shaped by us, how words can possess a person, and how once we internalize the words of another we become that person slightly. When it comes down to it I just don’t think I was the girl for this book, rather than saying this wasn’t the book for me.

You would think after about 100 pages, the author would have gotten to the point or at least the build up would be interesting enough to make you want to keep going til the point is revealed. I didn't find that here. I felt as though by that point I should have cared enough about the characters to want to find out more even with parts being slow or just uninteresting. The whole time I just felt like I was forcing myself inside a hole I could never hope to fit into. I couldn't force myself to finish.

The book was hard for me to get into at first but the more I read it the more interesting it became. Some parts were boring and hard to read but then there were some parts that were fascinating. I didn't care for the footnotes on a lot of the pages.

This was my " first" first read book. I wanted to love it, but in truth I hated it. The name dropping was confusing, the notes at the bottom of the page, made getting through that page even slower and more mind numbing. The homosexuality was off-putting. The episode for Spinx during World War II was probably the only part I enjoyed. It took me three entire month to slog through.

This book was very hard for me to get into. I am not sure whether it was because I thought it was heading one direction just for it to go somewhere completely different or maybe the book was just too deep for me. It just seemed so colorless. There was nothing to drag me deeper into their world.

As much as I tried to get through this book, I only made it 8 chapters in. It was pretty boring and hard to understand. Even now, I'm still not entirely sure what this book is about. I thought it was going to be about discovering what happened to Charlie, who seemingly disappeared out of the blue. Instead, it felt like a strange compilation of letters written by Lovecraft. The only part that made this book tolerable was the learning about H.P. Lovecraft.

I found it very difficult to get through this book. Perhaps it was because I'm not a sci-fan fan, but the plotline really lost me when it veered off into Lovecraft's writings and couldn't find its way back. I didn't connect with Mar on an emotional level, nor did I find her to be an empathetic protagonist. All I really wanted to know was what became of Charlie, and even that seemed to tall of an order, as I was left confused and unfulfilled by the end.

I enjoyed this book. It went from interesting to wildly improbable but it held my attention. The ending was ambiguous and I wonder what happened to Charlie, but this was a fun read.

I found The Night Ocean so painfully dull that I would rather be devoured by one of Lovecraft's horrors than read it again.

I was left reeling from this book. Half of it I didn't even know what was going on. I am not a big sci-fi fan so the names meant nothing except for H. P. Lovecraft. I would have enjoyed it much more had there been more to the story of Charlie's disappearance than some fake story about whether or not HP Lovecraft was a pedophile (and from anything I have read, he was not). Just was not my type of book.

This book was honestly mind-blowing. I spent most of it thinking that I'd figured out what was going on, only to be proven wrong in the next chapter, so eventually, I got so invested that I simply could not stop reading until I reached the end. And oh, it was fantastic. There was a taste of everything in this book- the aftermath of a concentration camp, post-WWII Mexico, the anti-communist attitude in America, and a plethora of famous authors. (Thank goodness for the footnotes.) I have to say, it was definitely pretty confusing at times, but eventually became clearer. The ending was quite ambiguous, and I now seriously want to know what happens afterward, but overall, it was satisfying.

Wait. What just happened? I'm going to need a while to recover from this one. But man, it was entertaining, in an eyebrow-raising kind of way. La Farge has managed to construct a head-spinning literary mystery from history. It's really not clear whether any of the characters in this book are telling the truth at any point except, perhaps, Marina herself. But honestly, I'm not sure of anything, except that it was an awesome read and a captivating story. A story within a story within a story. One thing I particularly love was the fact that so many characters in the book were aspiring writers, whether famous and historical or not, except, again, Marina herself. They therefore take a delight in language and ideas that I found infectious, even when it was dangerous or shocking. I got a free copy to review from First to Read.

I just couldn't get into this book

Reinvention, reincarnation, delusions or just flat out lies (sometimes known as alternative facts) - you can never be sure exactly what you are dealing with in this book, but it was certainly different and fascinating. The story is told by Marina, a psychotherapist married to Charlie a nonfiction writer, but there are stories within stories here. At the start of the book, Charlie has just killed himself by drowning, but Marina is not convinced that he is dead. Charlie had become obsessed with horror author H. P. Lovecraft and his relationship with his much younger fan Robert Barlow, and thought it would be a good subject for a book. It turns out that maybe not everything should be published. There are rumors that Lovecraft kept an erotic diary of this relationship called the Erotonomicon. Once tracked down, the diary turns out to have been written partly in Old English and partly in Lovecraft's invented vocabulary. Fortunately, there are footnotes in this book, which help not only with the diary but with all of the names dropped by the author. I was unfamiliar with most of them, but the book manages to work in Hart Crane, William Burroughs and Roy Cohen. It also includes Aztecs, a liberated concentration camp and the HUAC. I thought the story dragged a little in its second quarter when it dealt with Barlow's time as an anthropologist in Mexico, but the rest if the book moved along very quickly. I loved it's ambiguous ending. I like being surprised by a book so I enjoyed the author's writing style, his mix of real and fictional characters and his inventiveness. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

"As for humanity, I get enough of it just taking the streetcar. What I want, when I sit down to read a novel, is wonder." Wonder is what I experienced as I made my way through this unique novel. Charlie has escaped from a mental asylum and disappeared in what the authorities have ruled a suicide, but Charlie's wife is not so convinced. She is on a path of finding the truth after Charlie becomes obsessed with the life of H. P. Lovecraft and dives into a dark history determined to uncover the truth. This novel made use of interviews, footnotes, and book excerpts to really bring the story alive. I would recommend this for anyone with an interest of H. P. Lovecraft, science fiction writing, or the way stories influence us and our lives.

I really wanted to love this book, but I could not find a reason to. The story is based upon science ficton and the enmeshed stories of Lovecraft, Barlow, L.C. Spinks, and Charlie Willett. The wife of Willett seeks to find out the truth and that is where the disconnect happens for me. She doesn't seem to even care about him so it does not make sense that she would care enough to know the truth. The writers all had unique stories and backgrounds, however this was not enough. Maybe I would have enjoyed a series of short stories better.

The tales we tell, whether true or imagined, contain an abundance of details that drive others (and ourselves) to either believe or discredit us. When there are multiple stories on the same subject coming from one source, such as in Paul La Farge's The Night Ocean, it's difficult to determine which is the truth. Charlie Willett is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and his life, so much so that he's been researching a particular time span further based on the smallest of clues that many would discredit simply as a stretch. Once Charlie goes missing, presumed dead after having supposedly swum into a lake, his wife Marina, a psychiatrist, picks up Charlie's investigation in order to figure out what might have happened to him as a means to gain understanding and closure. Through this, Marina learns more about her husband's obsession, and all things and people related to Lovecraft, no matter how tangental they might seem. Narratively, this story is layered in a way to both build a case and trust while also breaking it down at the same time, which was entertaining and engaging to read. Marina takes the clues provided from her husband's research, follows up for more information on them where needed, and then provides her own analysis of potential rationale behind various actions or thoughts, which helps to provide a more clinical view of what might otherwise be taken at face value as a most fantastic truth. The various formats of telling the story through interviews, journal entries, conversations, and others was a good way to break up what otherwise might have been a tedium of recalled conversations in this lengthy tome. Overall, I'd give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

Thanks First-to-Read for this ARC. One-of-a kind, outlandish, and indescribable

Well written loved the twists it kept me page turning for hours on end

Wow, this book was a mindblower. It also followed a typical Lovecraftian pattern. The story kept opening up and getting better. It was a "history" many things. The Lovecraft circle, the Science Fiction scene in 1930's New York, World War II and just kept adding more great stuff. When this book becomes avaible try and seek out a copy.


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