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Variable Stars Paperback – 24 May 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Arbuthnot Books (24 May 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0956521444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0956521446
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 513,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David on 21 Jun 2011
Format: Paperback
Anyone who has read Richard Holmes' wonderful book about scientists and romantics
The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science will remember Caroline Hershel, sister and amanuensis of William,who discovered Uranus, and no mean astronomer herself. Christina Koning places Caroline at the centre of her new novel, Variable Stars, and paints a rich and complex picture of the astronomical and personal adventures and misadventures of Caroline and William Hershel, along with their contempories, including Edward Piggot and John Goodrick. I love writers who mix science with personal drama, whether fiction, Turbulence: Foden or faction Galileo's Daughter: A Drama of Science, Faith and Love.

The knack, which Koning readily accomplishes, is not to subject one to the other, but to give both science and life equal place. So the variable stars of the title are both an astronomical phenomenon and a metaphor for the lives and loves of the principal characters. As befits a novel set between 1764 and 1840, there is much unrequited love, lives lived within the constraints of an oppressive social order, and so much left unsaid for so long. Scientific discovery,in Caroline's case of a number of comets, provides liberation. Towards the end of her long life she recalls the night she found her first comet. "A Summer's night it was, and glittering with stars. How her heart had leapt, when she knew what it was she saw!"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. F. James on 13 Jun 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
'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!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Book -devourer on 20 Jun 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This accomplished novel explores the hidden relationships between a group of key astronomers of the late eighteenth, nineteenth century revealed through their observations on their work.
The writing is beautiful and reflects the cool, restrained style of the period, and of scientific study itself. It contrives to be both formal and very human, delineating a surprisingly intimate story of passions, fulfilled, repressed or sublimated. The reader learns much from what is not said: just as the existence of planets and satellites are inferred through changes in t'he stars, so the reader learns about one character thorough observations of another. Caroline Henschel lives as a satellite to the star astronomy, her brother and her knowledge of the man she loves has to be gleaned from her brother's correspondance and conversation, a restriction echoed in the other love affairs in the narrative. Homosexuality, gender, mutism and economic dependence prevent the main protagonists from speaking their hearts. To read this novel is to enter another time, to enter the domestic reality of eighteenth century life and to glimpse the infinite reaches of space. The variability of the stars is matched by the constancy of the astronomers dedicated to their mapping.
This is a really good novel and deserves a wide audience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Arditti on 19 Aug 2011
Format: Paperback
Christina Koning has written the very best sort of historical novel. She takes the little-known (at least by me) stories of the astronomer siblings Caroline and William Herschel and their friend Edward Pigott and fashions a poignant fiction on the mutability of human life and its reflection in the heavens. Wearing her meticulous research lightly, Koning vividly recreates Hanover, Bath, Windsor, Brussels (and even Slough) during the late Georgian period, when scientific advances and revolutionary atrocities were occurring almost simultaneously. Celebrated figures, including Dr Johnson, Fanny Burney and Farinelli pass through the book with the same grace and authenticity as the fictional characters. The central mismatched love affairs between Caroline Herschel and Edward Pigott and Pigott and his cousin, John Goodricke, are beautifully done. The language throughout is perfectly in period while avoiding any hint of fustian. Highly recommended.
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