The Stars Are Fire: Like a Chocolate Biscuit

Thanks to C.P. for this guest post on Anita Shreve’s The Stars Are Fire. C.P. is great for a lot of reasons: quick wit, brilliant ideas (and follow through) and a great dinner (and wine) companion. 

When Erin asked for volunteers to write a blog while she would be otherwise occupied I jumped at the chance – here was an opportunity to give back to Erin who has given so much with her blogs. But once she accepted, I panicked – what would I possibly have to say…

Still here I am then holding the blog baby. I chose The Stars are Afire by Anita Shreve because I have enjoyed reading many of her previous books. Reading for oneself and reading in order to write a blog are not the same thing, it turns out.

I enjoyed this book, much like I enjoy eating chocolate biscuits, sweet, satisfying and indulgent at the time, and somehow decadent. But also like eating too many chocolate biscuits by the end I felt vaguely nauseated and full of regret. Why? This book has a compelling plot, as a young woman, mother of two small children finds herself in a loveless marriage having to cope with unimaginable disaster – disaster involving fire, illness and bad timing, also lots of clothes; it has the ability to pull in this reader at least. 

But once finished and I reflected on it, more so in anticipation of writing this blog than I would usually, I found myself questioning the plot. Was it really that compelling? Were any of the characters drawn with any depth aside from the central one, and did I really care about any of them? The central character, Grace, is married to a man who I thought was gay. I managed to misread the clues it seems, as later in the book this does not emerge as likely. It seemed to me that we are expected to dislike Gene, the husband, and to have little or no sympathy for his fate. I don’t want to spoil this for anyone who would like to indulge, so will try to be vague, but at the same time it is difficult to be specific about my criticism of the book without detail (my admiration for Erin high already has increased….). But actually I wasn’t convinced. We are also expected to realize that Grace is fabulous but wrongly judged by her mother in law and husband. She has a mother who miraculously appears when needed for plot purposes but is not around when Grace would need her if she were a real person, such as when she is in hospital. The mother also vanishes conveniently again when the plot requires her to, leaving Grace in imminent danger with two small children.

The book ends but doesn’t end. Rather like eating what you think is the entire packet of biscuits, feeling rather sick, then discovering there is one more left. The Epilogue is the last biscuit. You know you have had enough but you really can’t resist just one more. And like the last biscuit having read it you really do wish you hadn’t. I don’t suppose I will spoil things by saying that the inevitable happens, more clothes to are described and the central character fails to endear herself any more than she had earlier.

So on balance, this was a pleasant way to while away a few hours, but I am unlikely to remember anything much after a week or two.

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