29 July 2009

Review: THE BRIGHTEST STAR IN THE SKY by Marian Keyes ***

"At 66 Star Street in Dublin, someone is watching over the lives of the people living in its flats. But no one is aware of it – yet . . .

One of them is ready to take the plunge and fall in love; another is torn between two very different lovers. For some, secrets they want to stay buried will come to light and for others, the unveiling of those secrets will have tragic consequences.

Fate is on its way to Star Street, bringing with it love and tragedy, friendship and heartbreak, and the power to change their lives in the most unexpected of ways . . ."

A small piece of warning: this review will not contain spoilers as such, but it will feature basic info about the characters and subjects that are tackled in the novel. If you do not wish to know anything about the novel until it's officially published, then please refrain from reading this review, which (as I said) will not be intended to spoil the book for anyone.
This will probably be a loooong review so I'll bold the most important bits for the tl;dr crowd, but feel free to just scroll down or close the page if you wish to remain surprised about everything regarding this novel.

Right, well, this book isn't out until October, but I was lucky enough to receive a proof of it, which in itself made me too happy for words (you can't even imagine), but I regret to say that the book didn't quite live up to my expectations (which were admittedly very, very high).

Firstly, you should know that this is *not* a chick-lit book, or at least I couldn't find any elements of chick-lit in it. I couldn't quite label it as it doesn't really fit into any of the specific genres (maybe general fiction?), but it appears that our beloved author is trying something new? Hmmm ...

The novel tells the story of people who live in the four apartments at 66 Star Street in Dublin: Maude & Matt, a strange couple; Katie, who is dating Kendall; a taxist Lydia and her Polish flatmates Andrei & Jan; an 88-year-old Jemima and her adopted son Fionn. Plot-wise, I must admit I rather struggled to read the first 500 pages and I was seriously wondering where the author was going with all that as it all seemed so random and unnecessarily detailed. I was all sort of confusing and (dare I say it) kinda boring. Sadly, I didn't find neither the characters nor the events interesting and I would've probably given up on it if it wasn't *the new MK*. Luckily, the novel really picked up in the last one hundred pages and then I really couldn't put it down so it made it all worth it, but I can't say that it wasn't a bit of a struggle.

Two things that make the novel unique and intriguing (but at the same time rather confusing at first) are the structure of the novel and narration. The so-called chapter titles are marked by the countdown of days so the so-called first chapter is Day 61 and then it ends with the last minutes of Day Zero. Now this would make it appears as if the story is going backwards (as I thought at first), but it's actually not - the story is moving forwards and the so-called chapter titles just mark the countdown of the remaining time (to put it vaguely).
Furthermore, the narrative voice is something special too and you don't really find out who the narrator actually is until the very end. Maybe you can guess it, but its identity and 'mission' aren't directly revealed until the last page (if you ignore the epilogue). Personally, I'm not sure if that was the best idea - I think the novel wouldn't be so confusing if more about the narrator was revealed earlier as that would've made the first bit easier to read, I guess. The plot itself may be a bit boring, but I quite enjoyed the narrative voice and its witty comments (written in a different font).

The two main problems that I had with this otherwise well-written novel (obviously, it's MK!) are the apparent randomness of the first 500 pages and especially the serious lack of humour.
Our beloved Ms Keyes is famous for making us all laugh out loud despite the grim subjects her books often tackle (e. g. Angels literally had me in tears, I don't think I've ever laughed so much because of a book), but I regret to say that this book hardly made me smile (even that was due to the narrator) and sadly the laughter was seemingly replaced by indifference, which was an unexpected disappointment. The novel had its moments, but I really missed the signature Keyes humour. As I said, maybe the author is trying something new - or maybe I just failed to be amused.
Furthermore, as I've mentioned before, I personally found the first 500 or so pages surprisingly boring, but then the book suddenly picked up and some serious drama occured, which shed more light on the events described before so that was good and more Keyes-like, but I would've never attributed the first 500 pages to Ms Keyes.

Through the stories of the main characters, several more serious topics are tackled (possibly spoilerish?), namely anxiety, dementia, rape, cancer, death and suicide. I thought these subjects were handled quite well (not surprisingly), but I wish most of them didn't occur until nearly the end of the book as I thought the beginning quite lacked action. I must admit that finally revealing these subjects made me feel for the characters more than I did at first, when I was quite indifferent to them.

I fully expected to rate this novel at least 5/5, but alas I cannot as I just didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the author's other works. It breaks my heart to say this as I think Ms Keyes is brilliant, but I've decided to be honest - no offence, please. Perhaps I would've enjoyed it more if I read it again now that I know what the deal is, but I don't see myself doing that. However, I think spoilers might help make the novel more enjoyable so feel free to let me know if you want some, hehe. I do hope other fans will enjoy the novel more and I look forward to reading other reviews as they come - it should be interesting to see what readers make of it! Nonetheless, I wish Ms Keyes great success with this book as well as in the future.

overall rating: 3/5
plot: 3/5 | writing: 4/5 | characters: 3/5 | cover (of the proof): 5/5


chicklitreviews said...

It sounds rather strange! Not chick lit? MK's new book IS NOT CHICKLIT?! Curious (as Harry Potter would say!)

It's a shame you didn't enjoy it! But I'm glad you were honest! I trust your reviews so you better not lie to me!!! :P

I hope you had a nice holiday, you ought to tell us about it! (Where did you go?)

Btw, I got Lindsey Kelk's I Heart NY! Haven't read it yet but am worried about reading it lol!


bookalicious said...

Yep, I was shocked to discover that MK's new book is neither chick-lit nor hilarious (hardly funny) - pretty much a complete opposite of what I expected. I feel absolutely horrible for supposedly criticizing it (I tried to be gentle as the book's still clever and all), but I really enjoyed this one far less than her other books, sadly. As I said, maybe it's just me again - higly possible as I'm a straaaange creature, hehe!

Well, maybe you'll love I<3NY, lots of people have apparently as the reviews on Amazon are still great! Either way, I'm looking forward to your review, as always!

Oh, the holiday was wonderful and so relaxing. We went to Malta and I read 7 books in a week - something I haven't managed to do in like 10 years or so, hehe. I would've gladly stayed longer and now that I'm back I already feel like I'd never left in the first place, heh.

Dot said...

Ah what a shame that you were disappointed! I felt like MK had gone in a bit of a different direction with her last book but I still really enjoyed it! I shall let you know what I think in October!

bookalicious said...

I know, I was a bit gutted too, but I still love the author and I still have several of her older books left to read (Anybody Out There, Rachel's Holiday, Lucy Sullivan, Last Chance Saloon) so I'm looking forward to those as I'm sure they'll be brilliant! :) I thought This Charming Man was a bit different too indeed and I loved it, but this was just *too* different to her other works to my liking. ;) Hope you'll like this book though and I'm looking forwatrd to reading your review then in October!

chicklitreviews said...

Hmm interesting.. I don't like the sound of the themes, they sound a bit heavy for me but I'll probably try it anyway! Chloe @ chicklitreviews

bookalicious said...

I suppose those themes out of context do sound pretty terrifying, but they're honestly well handled and don't really overtake the novel. Perhaps I should also mention that the novel mostly deals with different types of relationships, that's not so scary. :) Looking forward to reading what you make of it, Chloe. :)

chicklitreviews said...

IT'S NOT FUNNY? A MK book that isn't funny?! Oh dear. That worries me!

If you're strange I'm strange because generally I agree with your reviews!

Glad you had a nice holiday. Was Lucy in the Sky one of those 7 you read? Did you enjoy it?

bookalicious said...

Well, I may have cracked a smile or two, but I don't think I've properly laughed at anything. I suppose the narrators comments (as I said, in a different font) were the funniest, but that's nothing compared to the old books and I really missed it.
Then I guess we're both strange - or maybe it's just that great minds think alike. ;) Kidding!
Yep, I read Lucy on my flight back actually, was saving it for that occassion actually so I could read it in the sky. I did quite enjoy it, but surprisingly a bit less than I expected. I was mostly bothered by the basic writing and all the unnecessary details and the plot wasn't exactly gripping, but it was a lovely summer read! I'll post a proper review in the next days!
By the way, which of Paige Toon novels was your favourite? Just wondering. :)

chicklitreviews said...

Your comments about the secret narrator intrigue me about the book! I can't wait to read it, I have to say!

Glad you enjoyed it. My favourite of Paige's... I love all three but... but... oh dear... this could take a while... probably Johnny Be Good! I loved Chasing Daisy but I think I need to read it again (like I did with Johnny and Lucy) to make sure I loved it as much as I did!

Can't wait to read your review of it. I liked the basic writing, it helped me fly through it but each to their own! I'm just glad my recommendation of it was a good one!!

bookalicious said...

Oh yeah, as far as the narrator is concerned, I think this book is quite unique, hahaha! I have to give MK credit for that and the narrator's 'encouragments' in the final minutes of the book were the best, lol! I don't think learning in advance about the narrator would spoil anything really, but I'm not giving it away unless someone really wants to know. ;)

I really appreciate non-basic writing, heh - hard to describe, just something that shows the author knows their way with words and has put an effort into it, rewritten sentences etc. I'm not talking poetry, just something that shows the author's writing talent. I'm not particularly appreciative of books are too simple and similar to the way we all talk - I expect something more with books as there's just so much that can be done with words if the author has the talent for it (helloooo, Laurie Halse Anderson, J. K. Rowling and many others). I suppose the writing in Lucy was fitting as it's only a chick-lit novel, but I still appreciate great writing skills!
I can't say I was fully blown away or particularly amused, but it kept me reading and I enjoyed it! Will definitely buy the other two books as well - I just feel this strong urge to own such incredibly gorgeous books!!! And yes, definitely thanks for the recommendation, muchly appreciated! :) xx

chicklitreviews said...

I'd ask you to tell me but since I don't know any of the characters anyway it wouldn't help! So the book is narrated by one person and counts down days until the end?

Yeah I know what you mean about the writing!

I hope you enjoy Johnny and Daisy. I think the writing gets better with Paige's books... I may be wrong though lol!

bookalicious said...

I never said it was a person! :p Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. ;) But yes, there's only one narrator and there's a countdown, which doesn't necessarily mark the end! Intriguing, I know, that's why I said the narrator and the structure of the novel make the book both fascinating and slightly confusing at first, but then it all makes sense at the end. :) I do hope you'll enjoy it!!!

That's why I asked about your fav PT book, I was hoping there's an imporovement! But if can come up with an enjoyable story and wrap it in a stunning cover, then that's more than enough for me! While reading Lucy, I paid special attention to Meg's apperances so now I look forward to reading more about her too!

chicklitreviews said...

I'm intrigued and confused yes! It sounds strange lol

I had to re-read Lucy to spot Meg! I was like "HEY THERE'S MEG"

Paige's covers are stunning, aren't they? The covers of her books are my faves!

bookalicious said...

It sounds strange and it is quite strange at the beginning, but then it all works out (mostly). You can't say the book isn't one of a kind though, lol! I think I really should re-read it to fully understand and appreciate it, but I alas just don't have the time.

I've read about Meg from Johnny making an appearance in Lucy so I paid special attention to it. I do wonder why she broke up with Lucy's brother though, hmm. Guess I'll find out soon enough!

Agreed, her covers are among the very best ones out there - I'd buy the books even if I hated them just because they're so incredibly gorgeous! Massive props to whoever designed them, excellent job!

Book Chick City said...

Glad you had a good holiday. Can't wait to go away myself, want some sun, sea, sand and cocktails!

I haven't read any Marian Keyes yet. To be honest I only started reading chick-lit last year (starting with Sophie Kinsella, I love her!), so I'm playing catch up. I normally read horror/crime etc so it's really is nice to read something a bit different. As you are a big MK fan, which book do you think I should begin with?

bookalicious said...

Oh, sadly it feels like I've never even been on holiday, it seems like a distant dream now. :( But holidays are just the best! Are you off to anywhere in particular this year?

Yep, Sophie Kinsella is also *the* author who got me into reading chicklit. I didn't think much of it before, can hardly imagine that now as I pretty much love it, haha!

As for MK, hmm, it's really hard to choose as all her other books I've read were just so fantastic! I think my favourites would be Angels and The Other Side of the Story, but I still have a few to read so that might change. I think the best thing to would be to just look up her books and see which one interests you must: http://www.mariankeyesbooks.com/ (Those are the US covers btw, I think I prefer the UK ones.) But I definitely think you should give her a try, she's brilliant!

Which are your favourite crime authors/books then? That's my boyfriend's fav genre and he's running out of books to read (he most be the only person in the world as the rest of us are seemingly drowning in books, lol) so perhaps you could recommend something? :) I used to love crime novels too like 10 years ago, but now I just can't handle them anymore, they truly freak me out, heh.

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