The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

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The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

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Buy The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: True Marian Keyes fans will have to read it, but I felt it was a different writing style to her usual funny fare and I was left feeling disappointed and depressed.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 640 Date: February 2011
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0141028675

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Marian Keyes can usually be relied upon for a funny, moving story full of life-like, likeable characters. I was eager to read her latest novel, although somewhat daunted by the 600 odd pages! Here she takes us to an old, multi-storey house in Dublin that is the home of a variety of different characters. An unknown, magical narrator takes us through the house as we meet each tenant and discover what's happening in their lives.

I've enjoyed Marian's novels in the past. They often cover serious issues, yet she always has a light touch and leaves you smiling. Her multiple, interesting characters, alive with Irish humour, remind me of Maeve Binchy. In this novel I was also reminded of Alexander McCall Smith and his Scotland Street stories as well as Courduroy Mansions since we're introduced to all the tenants of a single building and follow all their lives as the story unwinds.

There are lots of things to like about the book. It has funny moments, although I don't think it's as funny as some of her other stories. Some of the characters are very well drawn, such as Katie the woman living at the top of the house who has just turned forty years old, is struggling in her relationships with her boyfriend and her parents, and always likes to wear high heels at all times, even to put the rubbish out, so she doesn't lose the knack of walking in them! I usually enjoy stories with a plethora of characters, nosing into every one's lives, and in this I liked that by the end one of the most aggravating characters, Lydia, had grown on me a lot as we discovered more about who she was and why she behaved in such a frantic, aggressive manner. I found it hard to predict what was going to happen, and which characters would end up together, which is usually pretty obvious in chick lit so I liked that aspect to the story.

However, I did not like the magical presence within in the book. I won't say who it is since it's a plot link that's revealed quite far into the story, but it's basically an omniscient voice who tells us about the various other characters, and occasionally comments on them via a different font. I found it intrusive and it felt too much like a device, not at all natural to the style of Keyes' writing, so that annoyed me throughout the story.

I also think perhaps she tried to fit in a few too many characters. Some were better drawn than others. One I completely forgot about since she was so cardboard until she appeared again further in the story and I had to think for some time trying to remember who 'Rosie' was. The two Polish men living in the flat with aggravating Lydia felt quite stereotypical, although I liked their take-up of the word 'glum'. However, some of the relationships that crop up in the book felt forced, or unbelievable at times and I began to distrust the characters because they didn't seem to be behaving as I thought they should from what I'd been told about them.

The book is structured in an unusual way, working on a countdown from Day 60, and it isn't obvious why, or if the number 60 is significant, or what on earth is going on. Within the day counts there are chapters, all quite short, that take us from character to character. I found sometimes there was too much jumping between characters, creating confusion, and on top of that there were also flashbacks to several years ago to elaborate the story which also didn't help with the flow of the narrative. Keyes also has a dog who initially I liked very much since he sounded like a rather endearing grumpy old dog, with the great name of 'Grudge', but then suddenly he is given a voice too and it felt like a step too far.

I probably would have overlooked all the authorial tricks and gimmicks had the book had me laughing throughout, but although some parts are funny it is, for a lot of the book, really, really sad and actually very harrowing. The story between Matt and Maeve is very well written but utterly devastating. I felt sick once as their story reached its climax, and I absolutely did not believe in the lickety-spit happy ending that she throws in. It felt like a 'quick, better make it upbeat chick lit' effort and it was unsatisfactory. I don't restrict myself to only reading bright and happy, rose-tinted stories, and I think it's important that there are stories that don't shy away from the sadnesses in people's lives. But hope seems so very far away at times in this book, and happy endings so unlikely, that after I put the story down I knew that I would never want to read it again, it had left me feeling so raw and sad. I didn't believe in the happiness she'd created at the end you see, so I just felt sad.

I'm sure there are readers who will thoroughly enjoy the book - perhaps fans of Eastenders who are used to being mired in misery and despair? I think fans of Keyes should read it with caution as I found it quite different to her earlier books. And if you're new to Marian Keyes entirely and see the pretty, light-hearted looking cover on a bookshelf and fancy a read perhaps you should skip back to one of her earlier books first before trying this one. I'm hoping she lets go of the tricks for the next novel, and goes back to her lovely, warm and amusing style in the future.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.


Further reading suggestion: If you've never read any Marian Keyes then I'd recommend starting with one of her earlier stories such as Anybody Out There?

Buy The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes at Amazon.com.

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