Monday, 24 April 2017

#TheStarsAreFire #AnitaShreve #Review


The Stars Are Fire

Here's an author who needs no introduction and probably just this cover alone will send you rushing out to the shops to buy her latest novel! I will buy any Anita Shreve without even reading the blurb as I know I'm guaranteed a great read and that I will enjoy every single page! I'm pretty sure I've read most of her books - there are many! -  and I envy anyone who has them all to discover for the first time!

The Stars are Fire is once again, a guaranteed great read! Set in 1947 in Maine, Shreve quickly settles into her forte of establishing a strong sense of time and place, with an assured and confident use of description. We meet our protagonist Grace who is married to Gene and thinks that in many ways, her family is perfect. She has "two beautiful children, a boy and a girl; a husband who works hard at his job and doesn't resist chores at home." But although on paper, and to others, life might seem perfect, they are not a happy couple. There is a tension and atmosphere between them and the reader does not warm to Gene. He may be affable but his considerateness is do with practicalities and economics rather than love.

"Can a wringer washer save a marriage?"

Shreve is able to establish a very convincing, authentic and always understated, picture of the family and the relationship between Grace and Gene. Everything appears to be something but in fact Shreve hints at something very different - something very subtle that simmers away underneath what is vocalised which makes this story compelling. This is a novel about a woman who faces the catastrophic event of an enormous, out of control fire but in surviving, finds an inner courage, bravery and strength that she did not know she had. The "hook" for the reader in this novel is Grace herself. The Stars Are Fire is a character led story in which we follow the many twists and turns in Grace's life, from harrowing, desperate, happy, successful, fulfilling- and always with plenty of heartache. As always, Shreve's characterisation is compelling, engaging and astute.

The opening pages establish a very clear picture of Grace and the household in which she lives. I learnt a new word - "Grace's house is a testament to containerisation". I loved "containerisation"! It immediately captures the sense of organisation, neatness, order yet also implies something deeper like a compartmentalism of emotions, feelings, opportunities. I also liked the way the personalities of rest of the people in the story were shown. Through her effective, efficient and evocative use of language, Shreve effortlessly creates an intriguing and believable cast of characters. A couple of sentences really stood out for me like when she talks about when her two year old daughter started to talk:

"....short sentences emerging like radio bulletins through static ...."

And although not strictly about character, I loved this sentence:

"Grace senses a question on the table next to the cake plate and its crumbs."

The description of the actual fire is quite overwhelming. The use of colour, heat, fear and shock is incredibly gripping and you can almost hear the fire raging as you read through the pages.

"The splendid maple next to Grace's own house turns orange in an instant, as if someone had switched on a light."

 Gene goes off to help fight the fire with the other men in the town and Grace is left to defend her home and then her family. Her quick thinking and knowledge of what to do in this frightening situation was fascinating and this was a very impressive section of scenes. Apparently the book is based on a true story of the largest fire ever to break out in Maine which makes it even more captivating.

Her family survive but their home does not. Grace has no documents, no belongings, no clothes, no anything. She has to start again, awaiting news of her husband who has not returned from his night of fire fighting. From this point on we see the determination, intelligence and quiet resolve of a woman who is intuitive, sensitive, hardworking and sharp. I really enjoyed the passages when she was working at the Doctor's surgery and all she was able to achieve in a mere few hours.

This is also a story about love. Shreve looks at the love between Grace and Gene and then the relationship between Grace and Aidan Berne - a man Grace finds living in her mother in law's empty house and is immediately intrigued by. They are very different and explore so many different facets of the characters and love itself. Throughout the story line, Grace and the prose remains controlled, taut, sparing and multilayered which makes some of the scenes even more tender, heartbreaking and moving.

And just when Grace has discovered ways to utilise her skills, ways to mend her family, mend herself, another disaster strikes. Once again Grace is tested to the limits. The reader is desperate to know whether she can find a way through this traumatic situation and still retain the things she has won for herself, or whether her new future is now fated.

I seriously enjoyed this book. Shreve can tell a good story. She can pick a time, place, situation and character and pull the strings with such precision and deftness that the reader is totally absorbed in a story that explores human nature. I enjoy reading books which place people in difficult situations and use it to examine universal themes like quality, family, motherhood and marriage. But, issues aside, ultimately Shreve writes a story that is engaging, enjoyable, accessible and perfect for curling up on the sofa, reading on holiday, indulging in over the weekend or saving for a rainy day. She is a guaranteed great read.

"The Stars are Fire" is published on the 2nd May 2017 by Little, Brown.

It's impossible to pick my favourite Anita Shreve book but here are some I highly recommend:

The Pilot's WifeFortune's RocksThe Weight Of Water

For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk

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