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Star of the Sea
ISBN 0151009082 / 9780151009084 / 0-15-100908-2
Publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Joseph O'Connor's impressive historical novel, Star of the Sea, examines the unsettled personal tragedies among a group of interrelated characters and their difficulties in disregarding the past. Lord Merridith and his family board the titular ship in 1847, bound for New York, leaving behind an Ireland devastated by famine and strife. The family's beautiful nanny, Mary Duane, is with them, having fled a life of poverty, prostitution, and extreme tragedy. Another passenger, American journalist Grantley Dixon, is lured to America by business and his thinly veiled affair with Lady Merridith. Mary Duane discovers that Pius Mulvey, her former fiancÚ and the brother of her deceased husband, is among the overcrowded group of disease-ridden steerage passengers. A renowned thief and murderer, Mulvey abandoned Duane, only to return and sabotage her life in Ireland. Despised by his countrymen, Mulvey has been ordered by a group of steerage thugs to assassinate the demonized Merridith or face his own death.
Conflict is inevitable, but O'Connor is more interested in the complexity of history and relationships and how each makes reinvention and resolution impossible. O'Connor presents the story as a work of journalism written by Dixon, composed in the era's tabloid style, even including passages from the captain's register and crew interviews. These devices lend the work a sense of authenticity, reinforced by the author's intimate knowledge of the period and his evocative, realistic prose: "At night one sensed the ship as absurdly out of its element, a creaking, leaking, incompetent concoction of oak and pitch and nails and faith, bobbing on a wilderness of viciously black water which could explode at the slightest provocation." O'Connor conveys a sense of immediacy and dimension in his ambitious story, providing this uncertain voyage with an ultimate sense of direction. --Ross Doll [via]