'Variable Stars' tells the story of three 18thC/19thC astronomers, whose lives were as full of emotional complexity, love, desire, disappointment and excitement, as any of the more obviously bright stars of their day - a Byron or a Blake. I had heard of William Herschel, but I hadn't realised his sister Caroline made many astronomical discoveries in her own right, initially while assisting him; Christina Koning portrays the reality of sitting out in the cold, night after night, fascinated but frozen, with all the household responsibilities still to attend to the next morning, from jugging hares to juggling the household accounts. Caroline is attracted to intelligent and agreeable fellow astronomer, Mr Pigott, and we wonder, with her, if he will return her affections - but only when we hear the story from his point of view, and then from that of the romantic figure of John Goodricke, mathematical genius and deaf-mute, do we discover what passions, hardships and responsibilities are entwined in all their lives, and those of their friends and families.
Koning has a gift for bringing to life her setting and characters - whether through the language we recognise from Jane Austen, the formality of address, the small domestic details, or the larger questions of the struggle to understand the world we live in - the meanings of patterns of brightness in stars, and the equally variable fortunes of those of us on earth. It's an intelligent and absorbing story - I wanted to read on to the end to find out what happened, but didn't want the experience to end!