La Farge loves intertextuality, nonexistent but real-seeming books, famous people lifted from the historical record and plausibly altered, the whole Borgesian shebang. But he also has another side, one intrigued by the dull stuff of contemporary life, by ordinary relationships, especially of the failed kind ... There won’t necessarily be a clear resolution to this mystery — or to any of the other mysteries the novel poses — but then, resolution is precisely what this story seeks to frustrate. And the book’s five narrators (Marina, Charlie, Barlow, Spinks and Lovecraft) combine to tell a beauty of a tale. The Night Ocean is a book full of pleasures. Though La Farge’s prose is as postmodernly fervid as Lovecraft’s is nostalgically formal, echoes of the horror writer’s work abound ... The Night Ocean contains in its particulars a number of allusions to the Lovecraft story that gives it its name. La Farge is a capable mimic, capturing everything from the talk of prewar science fiction fanboys to the language of modern internet trolls. And he (I’m assuming it’s La Farge) has even put up a website that purports to sell the reissued Erotonomicon. Dashing, playful and cleverly imagined, The Night Ocean emerges as an inexhaustible shaggy monster, part literary parody, part case study of the slipperiness of narrative and the seduction of a good story.
...a booby-trapped doozy of a book that’s as challenging and confounding as one of the many-tentacled alien beings in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos ... The result is a novel composed of narratives and counternarratives, texts and subtexts. It is both homage to and a sendup of Lovecraft and the 19th-century Gothic fantasies that inspired him. The layering is dizzying. Within Marina’s account lies Charlie’s account of Barlow’s retelling of his relationship with Lovecraft. Within Charlie’s story there are further sources: diaries, letters, recordings, transcripts — some of them red herrings and hoaxes and others seemingly true. La Farge, who adorns his book with cameos from William S. Burroughs, Isaac Asimov , Edward R. Murrow and others, carries it all off with breathtaking skill and panache ... As entertaining as the novel is, its complex structure results almost inevitably in the lack of a true center ... My advice is to spare yourself the trouble of trying to divine what’s true and what’s fiction in The Night Ocean and just go along for the ride.
Paul La Farge's intricately constructed novel about an apocryphal Lovecraft text, explores this passion binding us to stories and storytellers ... By freely mixing historical facts and fictional incidents, La Farge establishes an ever-shifting narrative ground, urging the reader to consider the tricky boundaries between the real and the imaginary ... At times the intensity of the reader-writer relationship—one that enlivens nearly every page of The Night Ocean—slackens due to the ever-compounding plot complexities. Digressions and narrative feints, slyly instructive though they be, sometimes enervate the characters' emotional charge ... With The Night Ocean, La Farge continues to press adventurously into the complicated moral terrain around the making of art and the provisional nature of truth. His sure-handed world-building around these ideas and the empathy that undergirds that vision suggest a circle of La Fargeans will someday soon emerge.