Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor

Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Secker and Warburg, 2002

Go seek your fortune darlin' in the land across the sea,
for in Paddy's land but poverty you'll find.

In the bitter winter of 1847, from an Ireland devastated by the potato famine, a ship sets sail for New York. It's name is the Star of the Sea and on board are hundreds of desperate souls fleeing their suffering homeland in the hope of a better life.

Among the fifteen first class passengers are the bankrupt Lord Merridith and his family, their nanny, the widowed Mary Duane and an American journalist.
Below decks in steerage the poor and starving will suffer the twenty-six day voyage in cramped and unsanitary conditions with very little food and walking among them is a shadowy killer hungry for vengeance.
The threads that bind these people together will gradually be revealed as each looks back on their life and recalls the events that have brought them to where they are. Passionate loves and guilty secrets, neglected responsibilities and nefarious activities.............they leave their homeland but some things are not so easily left behind.

The story is told in a variety of ways. As a narrative from different perspectives, from newpaper articles and letters , quotations, ballads, and each day the harrowing entries in the Captain's log as this kind and compassionate man writes the numbers who have died overnight and whose bodies will be given to the ocean.
Throughout the book there are many wonderful pen and ink drawings that originally appeared in newspapers of the time such as the Illustrated London News and Harper's Weekly.

While the format of the book has a unique and very Victorian feel which definitely adds to the reading experience it is the quality of Joseph O'Connor's writing that takes the breath away. Haunting descriptive prose that is both beautiful and brutal in its honest portrayal of the social injustices so many of the Irish people suffered  it is heartbreakingly tragic yet filled with the spirit of hope and healing. 

Magnificent historical fiction which I highly recommend.

Originally posted on Royal Reviews.

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O is for O'Connor


  1. I love this review, especially the last paragraph where you describe the themes and the author's breathtaking writing skill. This sounds like a great book.

  2. I remember this post, wanted to read it then, wants to read it now :)

  3. I brought this book a few weeks ago so Im glad you enjoyed it, it also has a beautiful front cover I thought and I love the little illustrations throughout.

    Oh and Ive put down 100 years of solitude and Ill do a post on that on the 31st, I feel bad because I feel I should love it but hey lifes too short.

  4. This sounds fabulous, I hope I get a chance to read it soon! Thanks for the nice review.

  5. Sounds like a great book--fascinating premise, and great to hear that the prose matches up!