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The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner

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The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Warner again re-unites the gang from his highly successful The Sopranos as they prepare to set off for a cheap, last minute holiday at Gatwick airport. He captures the world of people in transit pitch perfectly and there's plenty of laughs, not least at the hands of the wonderfully chavy, Manda. Girls behaving badly - a good holiday read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: May 2011
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099461821

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In 1999, Alan Warner introduced us to a wonderful set of characters in The Sopranos when a school choir from a backwater town in Scotland went on a trip to the big city. Much debauchery ensued. The Stars in the Bright Sky once again reunites most of the original gang and there is no need to have read the first book to pick up on the diverse characters. Now though, they've grown up (or at least got older!) and are gathered at Gatwick Airport to set off on a girls' holiday.

The epigraph is from Kafka and Warner expertly uses the socially equalising, Kafkaesque effect of passengers in transit to bring his disparate group together. The biggest character is the supreme chav, Manda whose toxicity is awe inspiring. Think your average Big Brother wannabe. In fact, that's her dream. She has stayed in the town where she grew up, along with Kylah and Chell, while Kay and Finn have escaped to university, to study architecture and philosophy respectively, and are here again reunited along with Finn's mysteriously beautiful and rich English friend, Ava. Manda in particular though is genuinely very funny, albeit in a way that you wouldn't want to encounter very often.

The girls' initial plans for a cheap European holiday are quashed when Manda (who else?) loses her passport and so, with a day to kill, the girls set off for a day in the country at Hever Castle before plans are re-scheduled. Much of the time is spent in the soulless confines of the airport bars.

I have slightly mixed views about the book though. On the one hand, it is very, very funny in places and it kept me reading wanting to know what was going to happen. It's certainly entertaining and a great deal of fun. It would make a good holiday reading choice.

However, I have reservations about it. Much of the word-count is made up of the entertaining conversation, which Warner has a strong ear for, particularly the Scottish mannerisms. But the more descriptive passages are what I would term literary in style - full of some strange and not always successful metaphors and similes, and the clash of the two styles jarred a little for me.

There was also a distinct arc of a story in The Sopranos. Events changed the characters and our perceptions of them. This isn't the case with The Stars in the Bright Sky. It felt to me like a set of great characters in search of a story. I can understand Warner's keenness to return to the gang, but while it does effectively send up the drinking youth culture, that's quite an easy target and I was left frustrated that the story didn't develop the characters. It felt to me like one of those endless film sequels where the characters that we've grown to love struggle to live up to the story that made them.

Without giving too much away, there's also a passage towards the end when things get stronger than alcohol and cigarettes that seemed not to fit particularly well. Perhaps the consequences of this event will see these girls re-united by Warner again, which wouldn't altogether be a bad thing.

Yet for all this, it is a very funny book and it is an interesting view on female friendship that is, sadly, probably quite accurate.

Our thanks to the kind people at Vintage for sending The Stars in the Bright Sky to The Bookbag.

For more holiday high jinx at the other end of the social spectrum, you might also enjoy The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis, while for a more sympathetic view of the Scottish, I'd highly recommend And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson, which was for me, the best book not to feature on any prize lists in 2010. For more from what Manda terms 'philo-surfers' on the subject of airports, then look no further than A Week at the Airport: A Heathrow Diary by Alain de Botton. For a much lighter read, you might like to try The Karma Trap by Lisette Boyd.

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Booklists.jpg The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner is in the Man Booker Prize 2010.


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