One of the most riveting novels
to come out of Ireland in recent years
STAR OF THE SEA
By Joseph O’Connor
Reviewed by Sharon Greer
O’Connor creates an atmosphere of veiled danger and suspense
holding the reader in tense expectation of the next outcome
Periodically I get a formidable mound of books for review from the publisher of The Celtic Connection newspaper. As I went through the pile recently searching for material for the May issue, I came across a magnificent novel initially overlooked.
Though first published in 2002, Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea is such a compelling story of enormous proportions that reviewing it became essential.
During the bleak and bitter winter of 1847 at the height of the Great Hunger in Ireland, the ship Star of the Sea sets sail from Ireland to New York. Hundreds of desperate people are on board, anxious to leave the misery and despair of home well behind them in the often futile hope for a better life in America.
Among those courageous enough to face the fierce Atlantic crossing on this arduous journey are a cast of interconnected characters astutely intertwined into this complex, absorbing tale of murder, dark secrets, and a stunning conclusion that twists and spins around until its shocking revelation. This is one book you simply do not want to put down.
The harrowing 26-day sailing and its ensuing hardships are most keenly felt by the steerage passengers who must endure filthy conditions, terrible illnesses, shortages of food and water, and many gruesome, slow deaths.
But these accounts have been recorded numerous times by historians and writers throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Where O’Connor changes course is in his portrayal of the fellow travellers in the first class section of the ship.
The contrast between the privilege and debauchery amongst the elite, while the starving steerage class are cramped into their tight quarters, sets the scene for one of the most riveting narratives to come out of Ireland in the past few years.
O’Connor creates an atmosphere of veiled danger and suspense throughout the story, holding the reader in tense expectation of the next outcome.
Often told in flashback, the reader almost imperceptibly begins to piece together the tragedy which slowly unfolds in this taut and monumental yarn of vengeance. O’Connor is indeed a truly gifted storyteller.
Joseph O’Connor was born in Dublin and has written several widely acclaimed novels. He is the brother of the extraordinary singer Sinead O’Connor.