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Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor

Star of the Sea (original 2002; edition 2004)

by Joseph O'Connor

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1,442485,205 (3.85)68
Title:Star of the Sea
Authors:Joseph O'Connor
Info:Mariner Books (2004), Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library, Read in 2012
Tags:Fiction, Historical Fiction, Bought 2012, Read 2012

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Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor (2002)



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English (42)  French (2)  Swedish (1)  Norwegian (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
This was a very quick read due to O’Connor’s engaging and eclectic writing style and ability to construct some very strong characters and bring them together in creative ways.

Star of the Sea leaves Ireland for New York weighed down with a cargo of impoverished emigrants fleeing the Irish famine. Floating atop the seething masses bedding down with enormous vermin, cholera and typhus below deck is a small group of the wealthy elite who comprise, among others, the journalist who relates the tale that we read.

After the voyage begins, the narrator uses various devices to bring us up to speed on who each of the key characters are and the figurative baggage they have embarked with. As your awareness grows, you realise that the ship is the backdrop for a growing crisis which must come to a climax before the ship reaches its destination. O’Connor maintains this pace as well as he maintains your interest in the characters.

What O’Connor also skilfully does is to enlarge your understanding of the issues of the day, particularly those associated with the abominable and probably preventable Irish famine of the mid-19th century. This is something I didn’t have much awareness of, despite ancestors on my grandmother’s side coming from the counties of Roscommon and Connemara. He’s piqued my interest and has reminded me how the novel is a perfect medium for delivering non-fiction in the medium of fiction.

The ending disappointed me a little. The twist was predictable because O’Connor did his best to conceal that there wasn’t going to be a twist by building up a facade to distract you from it. This shows the difference between a good read and crafted literature where the writing itself is as much (or even more) a part of the joy of the novel than the plot. I’m not sure O’Connor is bothered though; it’s clear that his agenda is to communicate the plight of the Irish in history. I’m not sure he’s achieved it fully here but it’s definitely a good attempt and one which engaged me and caused me to want to know more. ( )
  arukiyomi | Apr 18, 2015 |
This brought home to me more than any dry history could the extent of and devastating effects of the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s. Through this novel I felt keenly the suffering of the Irish and the devastating effects of the Potato Famine. For many, thrown off their small plots of land by their heartless landlords, the way to escape their poverty and privation was to emigrate to America.

This is the story of the 1847 voyage of a ship filled with emigrants: the "Star of the Sea" and her captain and crew. One man from Connemara, Pius Mulvey, is forced to undertake the murder of impoverished Lord Kingscourt--David Merridith, an Englishman. Those who order him are members of a clandestine group of agitators, the "Hibernian Defenders" who hate how cruelly the landowners have treated their tenant-farmers. They say if Mulvey doesn't do the job, he himself will be killed. The story consists of the captain's log for each day at sea [28] and its events. As the journey progresses it becomes bleaker and more grim. Then various chapters give the backgrounds of Mulvey, Mary Duane whom he seduces, Mirridith and family, and many others. An American newspaperman, Dixon, is on board and writes from his point of view continuing after the ship reaches America, its difficulties with the authorities, until concluding on Easter 1916.

The writing was gorgeous and amazing. The author waxed poetic on occasion. Sometimes the writing was strong and clipped. The story twisted and turned interweaving all these lives.

A strong, vivid image taken from the description of when the Hibernian Defenders threaten Mulvey:

"He remembered their eyes, so frightened and convinced. The black stained sackcloth of the hooded masks they wore. The slashed out holes where their mouths appeared. They were wielding the tools of their livelihood, but as weapons -- scythes, mattocks, loys, billhooks. Now they had no livelihood left. Centuries stolen in one stunning moment. Their fathers' labour; their sons' inheritances. At the stroke of a pen, they were gone.
Black and green fields. The green of the banner draped across the table, spattered with ribbons of Mulvey's blood. The glint of the weapon they had made him take, the fisherman's knife pressed to his chest, while they raged at him about freedom and land and thievery. The words SHEFFIELD STEEL etched into the blade. He could feel it now, in the pocket of his greatcoat, nestled to his lacerated thigh. He remembered the things they said they would do with that knife if he didn't stop whingeing about murder being too heavy to put on him. When they held him down and started to cut him, Mulvey screamed to be allowed to kill."

A poetic description of the ocean:

"Maritime wreckage. Bone and driftwood. Darker now: the wind blasting and stopping, like exchanges on a battlefield when ammunition is low. Everything had a blue and shadowy look."

Sometimes we "heard" voices of some of the passengers; each was distinct. The plot presented some as interviews, letters [even to misspellings and Irish dialect], an excerpt from a novel of the newspaperman, as songs or prayers. One chapter was a litany to the Virgin Mary; I could hear the frightened steerage passengers reciting the words. I could feel the captain was a compassionate Quaker through his writing. I really empathized with the characters and their conditions. I felt the stench and squalor of steerage conditions. I appreciated the long and detailed "Notes & Acknowledgements" at the end; I feel the reality and truth of the novel. ( )
  janerawoof | Aug 25, 2014 |
The general view was that, although there was often a wonderful use of language, the structure and plot were overly complicated, and the constant change of names was both confusing and distracting. Despite these perceived flaws, most of us managed to finish it and the book did stimulate an interesting discussion on the history of the Irish famine. Summary from my book group ( )
  jacquid | May 14, 2014 |
Excellent story. Woven together masterfully. Very grim in parts. ( )
  pixelette | Sep 21, 2013 |
recommended for: historical fiction fans, especially patient readers, as this book improves as it progresses

have to say that this is a time when I really appreciate my book club. I ended up enjoying this book, but it was very slow going for a long time. If I hadn’t been reading it for my book club, I believe I would have put it down toward the beginning and never gone back to it, but I am so glad that I felt obligated to read it and therefore finished it.

My favorite part was the fictional description of how Charles Dickens got the information that led to his writing the book Oliver Twist. I was smiling through that whole short section of this book. Still smiling thinking about it.

The writing is poetic & beautiful. Obviously well researched historical fiction. There is a mystery but what’s revealed is not what ended up being most important to me. What fascinated me most were the development of the many interesting characters, and especially the impeccable descriptions of what it must have been like in famine stricken Ireland in the mid 1800s. ( )
1 vote Lisa2013 | Apr 19, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joseph O'Connorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marinker, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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[The Famine] is a punishment from God for an idle, ungrateful and rebellious country; an indolent and un-self-reliant people. The Irish are suffering from an affliction of God's providence.
Charles Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary to Her Majesty's Treasury, 1847
(Knighted, 1848, for overseeing famine relief)
England is truly a great public criminal. England! All England! ... She must be punished; that punishment will, as I believe, come upon her by and through Ireland; and so Ireland will be avenged ... The Atlantic ocean be never so deep as the hell which shall belch down on the oppressors of my race.
John Mitchel, Irish nationalist, 1856
THE MISSING LINK: A creature manifestly between the gorilla and the Negro is to be met with in some of the lowest districts of London and Liverpool by adventurous explorers. It comes from Ireland, whence it has contrived to migrate; it belongs in fact to a tribe of Irish savages: the lowest species of Irish Yahoo. When conversing with its kind it talks a sort of gibberish. It is, moreover, a climbing animal, and may sometimes be seen ascending a ladder laden with a hod of bricks.
Punch magazine, London, 1862
Providence sent the potato blight but England made the Famine ... We are sick of the canting talk of those who tell us that we must not blame the British people for the crimes of their rulers against Ireland. We do blame them.
James Connolly, co-leader of the Easter Rising against British Rule, 1916
For Anne-Marie
again and always
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All night long he would walk the ship, from bow to stern, from dusk until quarterlight, that sticklike limping man from Connemara with the drooping shoulders and ash-coloured clothes.
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Book description
Det er vinteren 1847. Havets Stjerne forlader et forarmet og hungersramt Irland og sætter sejl mod New York. På det overfyldte dæk samles flere hundrede flygtninge. Nogle er fulde af optimisme, andre desperate. Men alle er de styret af en længsel efter at begynde på et nyt liv. Om bord på skibet møder vi en sælsom gruppe rejsende, som er langt tættere forbundet, end de selv aner. Og i menneskemylderet går en morder rundt og venter på det rette øjeblik.

I løbet af denne seksogtyvedages rejse vil mange mennesker dø og nye liv begynde i en ubarmhjertig verden, hvor ethvert forsøg på at undslippe skæbnen blot ser ud til at forstærke dens greb. Men forude venter det forjættede land.
Haiku summary
The Star of the Sea
Is where four lives intersect
At the end of one.


Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099469626, Paperback)


(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:31 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

Winter 1847, and the Star of the Sea sails from Ireland for New York. On board are hundreds of refugees, some optimistic, many desperate, all braving the Atlantic in search of a new home. But among them, a camouflaged killer stalks the decks, hungry for a vengeance that will bring absolution.… (more)

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