Star of the Sea: Vintage 21 (Vintage 21st Anniv Editions) Paperback – 4 Aug 2011
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Tragedy is a word too often used. Nevertheless, in Star of the Sea Joseph O'Connor manages to achieve a real sense of the tragic, as personal dramas of the most distressing kind play themselves out against the background of the Irish potato famine and the almost equal nightmare of the mass emigration that it caused. As passengers die of starvation and disease in steerage, a drama of adultery, inadvertent incest and inherited disease plays itself out in first class. O'Connor raises, and does not attempt definitively to answer, real questions about responsibility and choice.
Bankrupt aristocrat Meredith is emigrating, pursued by the hatred of his tenants and the memory of his mad-hero father. His children's nurse, Mary, has memories of lost love to torment her, as well as of the husband and child who died of hunger. And the ballad singer Mulvey has both his monstrous past and the certain promise that he will be tortured to death by the Liable Men should he not kill Meredith. This is a kaleidoscopic novel, whose events are seen in many idioms, from many points of view--it is a rich novel that knows that there are limits to the sense that can be made of history. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A page-turner of a masterpiece. Don't miss it" (Daily Mail)
"Stunningly accomplished" (Guardian)
"A triumph... A spectacular breakthrough... it raises the bar for contemporary Irish fiction" (Sunday Times)
"A terrific story... A stealthily gripping narrative" (Daily Telegraph)
Top customer reviews
Excellent novel from master story teller
O'Connor's characters are astonishingly well drawn. Set firmly in the historical context, one could quite easily believe they existed, though the nearest thing to a narrator – Grantley Dixon - is perhaps the least believable figure and potentially the novel's only weak point.
All the key POV characters - Merredith, Mulvey, Mary Duane - are drawn in shades of grey. Indeed, Pius Mulvey is an extremely sympathetic protagonist until events and his own dark urges take him beyond the point of no return on the road to Leeds. It’s at this point that all sympathy is lost. Even the secondary characters – Captain Lockwood, Rev Deedes, Nicholas Mulvey, Laura Merredith – are nicely delineated. O’Connor has a genuine gift for characterisation.
The novel’s structure is likewise fascinating. In many ways it resembles Stoker’s Dracula in its use of diary accounts, letters and recollections from multiple viewpoints. By wrapping the whole story up in authentic trappings, the novel has the air of a historical document. Even if these stylistic flourishes are disregarded, you’re left with a truly compelling plot and a nice final twist.
Star of the Sea is polemical without being naïve. It’s heart wrenching without becoming soapy (far from it). It’s understandably downbeat without being depressing. Above all, it’s a great tale derived from a dark chapter in the history of these Isles and the author is a massive talent.
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