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 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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