Lead Review (The Stargazers)

  • Book: The Stargazers
  • Location: Hampstead, West Sussex
  • Author: Harriet Evans

Review Author: tripfiction

Location

Content

The Stargazers by Harriet Evans, novel set in Hampstead and West Sussex.

Novel set in HAMPSTEAD and WEST SUSSEX

Set in Hampstead, London, and a stately home in West Sussex, The Stargazers is a moving coming of age tale brimming with family secrets.

Set mostly in the 1950s and 1970s, The Stargazers is a carefully woven story that depicts the troubled life of cellist Sarah Fox as she wrestles with young motherhood and looks back on her past. Sarah endures a dreadful childhood as the daughter of Iris Fane who considers herself the true owner of stately home Fane Hall. Nothing else matters to Iris, especially not Sarah or her older sister Vic who suffer appalling neglect and cruelty as a result. Especially not when, back in the 1920s, mean old Uncle Clive laid claim to the house and turfed Iris and her mother out.

The sisters don’t fare much better at boarding school. Sarah’s childhood would have been unbearable were it not for her schoolfriend Monica and an acquaintance in the village Bird Boy. And then there’s her cello teacher Mr Williams and his sudden and unfair dismissal from the school. How will all of these threads intertwine? What makes this book delightful is how they do.

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Fane Hall is almost a character in itself, representing the decay and fall of so many big houses in England in the post-war period. As is the house where Sarah and her husband Daniel live in The Row on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Both houses are vividly portrayed via myriad little details, lending much charm to the story. Then there are the numerous minor characters, their quirks, their parts to play in the plot.

But The Stargazers is about who Sarah starts out feeling like a failure, at life and at motherhood. That isn’t how we find her at the end, not after some most satisfying and unexpected twists.

Evans makes the storytelling of The Stargazers seem easy, almost effortless, but handling a book of this nature is anything but. There is such a lot of balancing to do, of how much weight to give this or that. Personally, I was hoping for a slightly fuller explanation of the disturbing character of the mother. Another reader may think differently. In the face of such magnificent storytelling, it seems churlish of me to even mention it.

Told in accessible prose with an acute attention to detail, this novel will appeal to readers of good quality women’s commercial fiction, and to anyone wanting an escape into the past and a thoroughly immersive read.

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