For my first ever post on my brand new book blog, I thought I would start with this absolute gem that I read over the Christmas holidays. “Star of the Sea” by Joseph O’Connor is a book that has everything: murder, suspense, history, politics, tragedy, a ship, romance, culture and philosophy. When I picked this book up solely because it is part of the Vintage 21 Rainbow collection that I have been hunting avidly for the last year and therefore is a very pretty turquoise paperback with matching tinted page edges, I had very few expectations for its actual content. However, the blurb on the back intrigued me, and I packed it (along with a number of others) in my backpack to read during my Christmas holiday in the UK. Serendipitously, it was the book I was reading when the weather was finally still enough to take my aunt and uncle’s narrow boat out for the day. If travelling sedately in a boat, cosied up next to a fireplace, on a canal, on a clear winter’s day in the English countryside is not the perfect place to read about the trials and intrigue of a ship’s journey from starving Ireland to the USA in the mid-1800s, then I have no idea what is.
“Star of the Sea”, published in 2004, has an ensemble cast of characters brought together on a journey to America whose lives are far more intertwined than first meets the eye. Posited as a murder-mystery-cum-autobiography of one of the passengers, the novel is tied together by the looming threat of a murder and the increasingly grim conditions on board the eponymous ship. The chapters are interspersed with political cartoons and newspaper articles which paint an unsettling picture of the racial profiling and blatant discrimination directed at the Irish at the time. As a reader following dramatic revelation after dramatic revelation, it is hard to form firm allegiances or sympathies with any of the main characters and I was left with the impression that each character was as complex as the unlikely set of circumstances that had led them onto the ship in the first place. This book wasn’t boring for a moment, and while I felt as though O’Connor may have overused suspense as his primary plot device, the effect this mishmash of genres had was both surprising and lingering. After I finished it, I found myself thinking about this book for days. I talked to people about it. I exclaimed, I bemoaned and I wondered.
I think that this is a book that just about anyone can get something out of, and if you’re looking for a holiday read to sink your literary teeth into, this is a great choice.