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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Review: Star of the Sea

Author: Joseph O'Connor

Release date: 2002 UK
Genre: Literacy fiction / Historical Mystery
Target audience: Adult

Summary from Waterstones.com:
In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland torn by injustice and natural disaster, the Star of the Sea sets sail for New York. On board are hundreds of fleeing refugees. Among them are a maidservant with a devastating secret, bankrupt Lord Meridith and his family, an aspiring novelist, a maker of revolutionary ballads, all braving the Atlantic in search of a new home. Each is connected more deeply than they can possibly know. But a camouflaged killer is stalking the decks, hungry for the vengeance that will bring absolution. The twenty-six day journey will see many lives end, others begin afresh. In a spellbinding story of tragedy and mercy, love and healing, the further the ship sails towards the Promised Land, the more her passengers seem moored to a past which will never let them go.

I really don't know why I am bothering to write this review. I'm sure very few if any of my readers will be interested in Star of the Sea. I think there may be one or two of you that may find my personal reading experience with this book of interest. I expect it says a lot about my identity as a reader.

Star of the Sea is set amid the Irish potato famine of the mid-nineteenth century. My personal interpretation is that the book is more of a character study. The characters who make the voyage on the ship Star of the Sea to America. It isn't a story of hopes or dreams. There is no sense that reaching the destination will bring a good change. I guess I'm not entirely sure what the message was in this book which is an illustration of the confusing writing style and changing viewpoints. I was reading this book for the staff book group so I felt I had to finish it. There is nothing like the public humilation of talking about a book you've never read for a bit of motivation.

The story seems to begin several times. The first half of the book tells the story of each character. There is Mary Duane who falls in love with a young David Merridith. There are the brothers Pius and Nicholas Mulvey. Two boys who couldn't be more different in personality. There is Dixon, Laura Markham, and Merridith again. This opening was the most difficult to follow, convoluted and pretentious way to begin a novel that I have ever had the misfortune to read. I felt that Joseph O'Connor was trying to demostrate his brilliance in the genre of literary fiction rather than write an interesting mystery. I should probably mention that the whole way through the book you know there is going to be a murder. Interpersed with all this is the Captain's log of the ship. So every once in a while you learn that more passengers have died in the steerage class from various diseases.

The only part of the book that I actually enjoyed was the story of Pius Mulvey as he travels around nineteenth-century London committing many thefts that become increasingly ingenious and daring. It is his time in Newgate prison that was the most fascinating aspect of the book. During my degree, I specialised in literature of the city during the eighteenth and nineteeth century so I related to this part of the book because it drew on my prior knowledge. Sadly, this part of the book was perhaps only ten pages.

The book, including the highly boring epilogue, was 405 pages long. I enjoyed perhaps ten of those. The only people who I can think will enjoy this book are those who read ridiculously pretentious literacy fiction or have a particular interest in the Irish potato famine. Perhaps you need to be a more serious reader to enjoy this. I'll be intrigued to hear what the rest of the staff in the book group think of this. Without a doubt, this book was not for me. I wonder if I should be concerned that my husband enjoyed reading it...

Are any of my readers a member of an adult book group? If so, what titles have you been reading? Do you have any recommendations for my group that won't make me bored to tears? I need your help. For the next session we are all selecting a title from the Costa Book Awards. I going to read The Girl With The Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. Have you read this? Have I chosen wisely?


Cat Clarke said...

Doesn't sound like my cup of tea either. Grown-up books are hard!

Luisa at Chicklish said...

Well, it's very interesting to read this, so thank you, though I'm sorry it wasn't a good reading experience for you. I have to admit it's not a book I'd normally pick up! I usually seek out the Orange prize nominees, though, as they're more my kind of fiction. I could recommend past winners like Andrea Levy's Small Island?
Hmm. Have you read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go? I'm wondering whether that's a good 'book group book' that might suit you better. (I'm wracking my brains here thinking about the kinds of books you like!)
I haven't read The Girl With The Glass Feet but I hope you enjoy it.

Becky said...

Cat, yes indeed. Sometimes I even think Grown-Up books suck!

Luisa, thank you for a very helpful comment. I have investigated Never Let Me Go on Amazon and I think that this book will certainly make an interesting discussion book.

Melissa said...

I'm sorry to hear this book was so awful! I hate when books don't live up to your expectations, but thank you for informing me! :)

LovesSam said...

This sounds like the most boring book ever, it looks like one of those books pretentious people pretend to read on public transport, when they have like comic books hid inside. I find books that are set way back when, especially adult books, hold no sway with me because they are so utterly un-relateable. Books about voyages are only good if they include hot boys and/or pirates who yield swords, buckloads of spiffing sea adventures and maybe a treasure hunt.

There are loads of good adult books out there though, I loved Kate Morton's books, Ian McEwan is always a winner. Oh and Kate Mosse is good too as if Stef Penney - The Tenderness of Wolves. Victoria Hislop is good too....not read her second book, but The Island was really interesting

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

So sorry. I hate it when I waste my time on a book like this. Here's hoping your next one is a winner!

Becky said...

Melissa, honestly I think I always knew I would hate this book.

Carla, just loved your comment. Yes, half naked pirates may well have livened things up. Thanks so much for your recommendations. I shall investigate those on Amazon and Goodreads.com.

Alyssa, thanks I'm already reading my next book and it is certainly a great improvement.

Lenore said...

I am in an adult book group too. We've had some pretty weird choices, but one we all seemed to like was THE GOOD THIEF by Hannah Tinti.

This book sounds very 1 star worthy...eek.

Shweta said...

It's very depressing when a book falls flat ..Have been through it many times..That's the reason I try to get as many recommendations as possible before choosing a book .. :)

Charlotte (The Book on the Hill) said...

Oh, too bad. The summary was intriguing, at least. But apparently we can't say the same thing about the book...!

As for recommendations, here a a few titles I love :
- The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (considered YA but I think it's more of an adult book)
- Any book by Alessandro Baricco (I recommend Silk and Novecento : Pianist)
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom.

All of those books can lead to interesting discussions, without hesitation. And they're great to read !

Book Chick City said...

I tried reading this a few years ago at a book club I belonged to. It was just so dull!! I couldn't get into it and I agree with everything you've said - how did this one get published?! I can't imagine anyone enjoying it *oh, yes didn't you say your hubby did... ahem* Well, anyway, this was a DNF for me (and I rarely give up on a book). I salute you for getting all the way through it :)

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Great review. I love hearing about books I wouldn't otherwise hear about.

I Want To Read That said...

Well I applaud you for finishing - I'm not sure even the threat of public humiliation would have been enough for me to read it!

As for adults book I loved Crow Lake by Mary Lawson and although I haven't read it (yet) Company of Liars by Karen Maitland has been recommended to me over and over again.

I read a really good review for The Girl With The Glass Feet recently but can't for the life of me remember where (grr!) - I adore the cover though:)

Lauren said...

I think you did well to finish too. This brings back my uni days - there were quite a few books I technically finished (my eyes skimmed over the pages, and I'd turn each one but take nothing in) but didn't enjoy in the least. Honestly, I can't get psyched up to read a grown up book. And at over 400 pages? You should've been sponsored!

Lea said...

Wow. I'm so sorry you had to read this! Especially since only about 10 pages were good (out of 400!).

Thanks for the honest review! :)

Becky said...

So many great comments and recommendations from you guys on this. I am going to investigate all your adult book titles for the book club meeting in March. I'll let you knwo which ones I pick and how they are received.
Thanks so much for your input!

brizmus said...

Sounds like the 10 pages of the book you actually liked might also be the only 10 pages I would like.
I actually JUST picked up today "the Girl With the Glass Feet." I had never heard of it before, but at the book store I just kept going back to it over and over again. So now it is mine.
As for recommendations, I'm not part of a book club, but I had had MANY an interesting conversation pop up about things read in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.
So if you guys haven't read that one yet, that's what I'd recommend.
Also Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is a great, intense conversation-starter of a book!

prophecygirl said...

This sounds like a pretty terrible book, and isn't one that I'd ever think of reading. Thanks for the honest review!