Star of the Sea: Review Extracts & Media Comment  

Shocking and compassionate.... A spellbinding historical thriller.
Fiona Buckland, The Bookseller ‘Star Choice’ (17 October 2002)

A great read. Pius Mulvey is one of the most brilliant characters I have come across in a long time.
John Kelly, The View, RTE Television arts programme (29 October 2002)

A really wonderful read. It deserves to be hugely successful, and it will be.
Myles Dungan, Rattlebag, RTE Radio arts programme (29 October 2002)

Joseph O’Connor is a born taleteller, but he has done with this novel what most people would have thought impossible. He has produced a story of the Irish Famine that fully does justice to that cataclysmic event and to all those who were caught up in it. This is a novel of awesome amplitude, as great in scope as anything written by Dickens or Trollope. It is a work of imaginative audacity and deepest insight, the work of a truly major writer. With Star of the Sea, Joseph O’Connor becomes one of the finest novelists in the English speaking world.
Declan Kiberd, Professor of Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama, University College Dublin. (30 October 2002).

A marvellous cast of characters...Sad and funny, Star of the Sea follows a subtly plotted course to its final satisfying landfall...O’Connor pours a furious intelligence into the minds of his travellers, questioning everything from the inheritance of guilt to the loss of local memory. In doing so, he had written his most substantial and impressive novel to date.
Aisling Foster, The Irish Times (2 November 2002)

A truly extraordinary historical novel…. A book about Irishness and Englishness, equality and inequality, rich and poor; it is a novel of secrets, mystery and murder, and above all else the importance and power of storytelling
Niall McMonagle and Madeleine Keane, The Sunday Independent, announcing inclusion of Star of the Sea on the final shortlist for the Irish Novel of the Year award (3 November 2002)

With Star of the Sea, Joe O’Connor achieves a spectacular breakthrough... Amid the bodice-ripping twists, literary in-jokes and murderous turns of the rattling plot, O’Connor handles his diverse cast of gadfly aristocrats, vagrant peasants and bullish American reporters with empathy, the detail exuding authenticity rather than didacticism... A vibrant, picaresque novel that tackles a vast, perilous subject with such aplomb that it raises the bar not just for O’Connor but for contemporary Irish fiction in general. The book is a triumph.
Mick Heaney, The Sunday Times (3 November 2002)

The most exciting writer of his generation…. A wonderful, highly researched, sumptuous read… Joseph O’Connor is on the crest of a wave.
Sue Leonard, The Irish Examiner (4 November 2002)

Sensitive, thoughtful and rich…It is impossible not to be impressed…Integrity is the hallmark of the entire novel…It is a noble addition to the canon of Irish literature.
Justine McCarthy, The Irish Independent (9 November 2002)

…Joe O’Connor’s magnificent new book Star of the Sea...
Róisín Ingle, lead columnist, The Irish Times Magazine (9 November 2002)

A brilliant novel…Astonishing…memorable and moving…A beautifully written thriller.
Maura O’Kiely, The Sunday Tribune (10 November 2002)

The publication of this novel makes Joseph O’Connor the most exciting Irish writer of his generation.
Le Monde (Paris, 15 November 2002)

An extraordinary novel, teeming with colour, character, insight and emotion.
Seamus Hosey, Book on One, RTE Radio 1 (17 November 2002)

Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea offers a luminous account of the effects of the Great Famine on an awesome range of characters…. A novel in which imaginative audacity is tempered only by a scholar’s scruple.
Professor Declan Kiberd, ‘Books of the Year’, The Irish Times (30 November 2002)

Get into this book. You won’t regret it.
Irish Tatler (December 2002, unnamed reviewer)

I am utterly in awe of this magnificent novel… A tremendous and unforgettable piece of work.
Gay Byrne, chairman of judging panel for Hughes and Hughes Irish Novel of the Year Award (3 December 2002)

The novel of the year. Written with immense vitality, this intricate tale of an Atlantic crossing during Famine times is not only a smashing read, but may well turn out to be a classic. Dramatic and informative – his best book to date.
Jeananne Crowley, ‘Books of the Year’, Ireland On Sunday (8 December 2002)

…Popular reads with Eason O’Connell Street [Ireland’s largest bookstore] include the Booker Prize winner, The Life of Pi by Yann Martel and Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea –- the last hugely popular with staff in O’Connell Street, as well as with customers.
Rose Doyle, ‘Books for Christmas’, The Irish Times (10 December 2002)

The one novel that pushed the boat out to the greatest extent this year was Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea… I can't remember an Irish novel that brought together such a mad, bad, dangerous group of people...This is a really marvellous book; a major breakthrough for Joseph O’Connor; it’s rich, beautifully written, wonderfully researched...My novel of the year...Mind-expanding and mind-opening…Warmly recommended.
Marian Finucane Show, ‘Books of the Year’, RTE Radio 1 (11 December 2002)

Joe O’Connor’s award-winning novel Star of the Sea follows a group of characters who find themselves on board a famine ship… It gives the most extraordinary descriptions…. It truly is a remarkable book.
Gay Byrne, ‘Books of the Year’, The Sunday Independent (15 December 2002)

The book that stood out for me this year head and shoulders above all others was Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea. Vivid, inventive, clever, funny, frightening and intensely moving, it shifts contemporary Irish fiction up a considerable notch.
Madeleine Keane, Literary Editor of The Sunday Independent, ‘Books of the Year’ (15 December 2002)

From the opening chapter of Joseph O’Connor’s new novel the reader is caught in the web of a master storyteller... This human saga, written in the seamless and totally convincing style of the great 19th century English novel, introduces an impressive array of absorbing characters, all fleeing from a hopeless past or searching for a more blessed future... This novel left me with the permanent feeling, as with all great fiction, that, although it may never have happened, it was absolutely true.
Seamus Hosey, ‘Books of the Year’, The Sunday Business Post (22 December 2002)

For a long journey, I recommend Star of the Sea by Joe O'Connor, a truly gifted storyteller. It took me from Dublin to New York in what seemed like less than an hour.
Michael Colgan, ‘Books of the Year’, The Sunday Tribune (22 December 2002)

Joseph O’Connor gave us his own take on the Ship of Fools in Star of the Sea, his best of a very good lot to date. It is witty in structure and style, and as accomplished as you would expect from one of our best young writers.
Myles Dungan, ‘Books of the Year’, The Sunday Tribune (22 December 2002)

In fiction I greatly enjoyed Joseph O’Connor’s Star Of The Sea
Dermot Bolger, ‘Books of the Year’, The Sunday Tribune (22 December 2002)

Joseph O’Connor’s Star Of The Sea kept me well entertained this year.
John Kelly, ‘Books of the Year’, The Sunday Tribune (22 December 2002)

All in all, a good year for words. And I’m looking forward to Joe O’Connor’s book, Star Of The Sea.
Colum McCann, ‘Books of the Year’, The Sunday Tribune (22 December 2002)

Exploding myths about Ireland’s past is a powerful theme in O’Connor’s new novel. [His] use of language is convincing and he tells a gripping tale... As Star of the Sea suggests, the truth about the history of Ireland is far more intriguing and mysterious than the Disneyfied version could ever be.
Julie Wheelright, Scotland on Sunday (22 December 2002)


Christmas Week 2002

1. Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor, Secker & Warburg
2. Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Canongate
3. Just Between Us by Cathy Kelly, HarperCollins
4. Quentins by Maeve Binchy, Orion
5. Angel by Marian Keyes, Poolbeg
Booksellers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland, Irish Branch

A moving, unsettling novel…In this many-stranded story, O'Connor traces the roots of the Irish famine and unravels the conflict between landlord and tenant in a narrative that compassionately explores both sides of the divide. He lays bare the historical background with forensic precision and as America draws near, the tale races to a dramatic and unforgettable denouement.
The Good Book Guide ‘New Year Edition’ (January 2003, unnamed reviewer)

A masterful storyteller…It’s a thrilling tale…O’Connor teases out the connections that bind [his characters’] lives together, and lays bare the intertwining of the personal and the political, the individual and the national, with nothing less than incandescent passion…Operatic and relentless, but unfailingly gripping.
Neel Mukherjee, The Times (1 January 2003)

Enormously accomplished...I admired it very much. Beautifully drawn characters, and highly readable.
Adam Mars-Jones, Saturday Review (BBC Radio, 4 January 2003)

A rare fictional account of those who fled the Great Hunger…O’Connor’s magnificent new novel is a bravura performance.
Judith Palmer, The Independent (London) (4 January 2003)

Star of the Sea
is better than perfect: it is as flawed as a Beethoven symphony, as original and wildly chancy, as insistent in its motifs and as self-contained. O’Connor has always been an entertainer, but with this book he has nestled himself at the helm of Irish literature. He remains a tightrope artist; and this novel is more than a book. It engages the reader beyond the act of reading into spectating. O’Connor pirouettes, lands sure-footedly, juggles various plots, and makes the ball appear from underneath the other cup…A historical novel, eminently well researched, also a Gothic horror, a psychological novel of considerable depth, an idyllic romance, and an elegant thriller, an Agatha Christie whodunit full of suspense…A wondrous voyage of discovery…It has that elusive quality which is the distinctive feature of great literature… O’Connor has broken the mould of Irish fiction. Where he goes from here is beyond me.
Peter Van de Kamp, The Sunday Independent (5 January 2003)

A winner…Gripping fiction…There is so much that is memorable in Star of the Sea -– grounded upon well-researched, vivid, unprejudiced empathy –- that no one should begrudge the best-sellerdom that is apparently coming its way.
Caroline Moore, The Sunday Telegraph (5 January 2003)

O'Connor is meticulous in creating the sense of trouble that pervades the book; and while all who are sailing have a sense of their own future, it is in the past that their characters are revealed...Such is the layered structure of the novel, the individual histories reveal the importance of a lifetime of events…O'Connor has created a darkly atmospheric novel [with] virtuoso handling of pace…The language evokes the ominous sense of the past coming back to haunt and to taunt those who thought they were escaping their fate….The importance of who is right and who is wrong seems to diminish as the poignancy of this tragedy sinks in.
Toni Davidson, The Sunday Herald (Scotland) (5 January 2003)

One reads it much as his contemporaries must have read Dickens, with a growing sense of outrage at man’s inhumanity to man, making this a book with a message for today with regard to our attitudes to unfortunates seeking refuge here. [But] it is in no way heavy-handed. O’Connor subtly weaves the polemic into a gripping narrative to fashion a page-turner of a masterpiece. Don’t miss it.
John Harding, The Daily Mail (10 January 2003)

Agatha Christie-fashion, the characters are thrust together in an isolated setting, with no escape for the victim, and a ready-made of group of suspects, but murder here is only a means to an end. O’Connor is more interested in the events of the times. Most of the novel is presented as a memoir told by Dixon [the main narrator] in later life and only makes sense with the revelation on the very last page. I was hooked long before that. A compelling read.
Simon Edge, The Sunday Express ‘Fiction Book of the Week’ (12 January 2003)

This is a meaty broth of a book, rich and satisfying to the last drop… The reader [is] in the trust of a master storyteller.
Barclay McBain, The Glasgow Herald (18 January 2003)

Only when you can reclaim the past without either shame or nostalgia are you really free of it, which is one reason why Star of the Sea is to be acclaimed. Another reason is that O’Connor’s supple, richly textured, faintly archaic prose, which draws on an Irish tradition of scrupulous verbal craftsmanship, puts to shame the colourless, drably functional language of so many of his English counterparts... …..In this self-consciously epic work, O’Connor mixes gothic and picaresque, history and biography, thriller and adventure story, to recreate all the sprawling diversity of high-Victorian fiction. There is a telling contrast between the bleakness of the materials and the opulence of the treatment. While other writers content themselves with fine-drawn cameos of suburban adultery, O’Connor ranges from workhouse destitution and grotesque prison violence to storms at sea and delicately sketched love scenes. There is Dickensian spaciousness here… The society that has only its contemporary experience to live by is poor indeed. With this stunningly accomplished novel, Irish fiction, for so long a prisoner of the present, breaks out into a richer, stranger country.
Terry Eagleton, The Guardian (25 January 2003)

O’Connor suggests powerfully and with disturbing precision how his characters, trying to escape the past, carry old class hatreds and personal resentments to the New World.
Margaret Walters, The Sunday Times ‘At A Glance’ column (2 February 2003)

Ireland's copious cultural hoard over the past two or three centuries offers little sign of nautical engagement beyond a few storm-tossed shanties and occasional echoes of the sea's griefs in Lady Gregory's plays. Testimony to the horrors of forced or assisted migration in the notorious "coffin-ships" during the Great Hunger has, surprisingly, only begun to be heard through poets such as Eavan Boland and in Joseph O'Connor's novel Star of the Sea.
CL Dallat, The Guardian (8 February 2003. Review of The Voyage of the Catalpa: A Perilous Journey and Six Irish Rebels' Escape to Freedom by Peter Stevens.)

Joseph O'Connor has remembered Ireland's history, without for one moment wallowing in the dubious pleasures of historical hatred. He has revisited the past and reshaped it into a quite magnificent novel, bitter but controlled, humorous, humane, and almost miraculously even-handed. Star of the Sea is a novel of dramatic opulence, of Victorian substance as well as setting…And what a commanding cast of characters he has given us: colourful and grotesque, sinister and weak, noble, tragic and doomed… Pius Mulvey [is] as extraordinary and haunting a presence as any in modern fiction…In Star of the Sea, Joseph O'Connor unblinkingly shows us Ireland's past, 'that heartbroken country of incestuous hatreds', in a novel that delivers us from those cramped hatreds, into a spacious, magnanimous universality.
Christopher Hart, The Literary Review (February 2003)

Tragedy is a word too often used. Nevertheless, in Star of the Sea Joseph O'Connor manages to achieve a real sense of the tragic...This is a kaleidoscopic novel, whose events are seen in many idioms, from many points of view -- it is a rich novel that knows that there are limits to the sense that can be made of history.
Roz Kaveney, editor, ‘Five Star review’ (February 2003)

Former Whitbread Prize nominee O'Connor delivers his most moving novel to date - Star Of The Sea has already been shortlisted for the Irish Novel Of The Year Award…This is an enthralling story. Sad, funny and riddled with mystery and murder, it will have you gripped to its unforgettable ending.
Carolyn Hart and Michael Hogan, Marie Claire (February 2003)

This is Joseph O'Connor's best book. It is shocking, hilarious, beautifully written, and very, very clever.
Roddy Doyle (February 2003)

O'Connor pulls out all the melodramatic stops for a thrilling tale without once losing his eye for the right detail or his ear for the perfect phrase.
The Kirkus Reviews, starred review (15 February 2003, unnamed reviewer)

An increasingly impressive novelist…This is a first-class thriller.
Conor Ryan, The Independent on Sunday (16 February 2003)

A mighty clever and moving read…O’Connor draws out the ironies of man and history with a poet’s compassion… This is grand writing.
Wally Hammond, Time Out (19 February 2003)

Star of the Sea
is a terrific story…A stealthily gripping narrative. A first-class adventure.
Toby Clements, The Daily Telegraph (22 February 2003)

Star of the Sea
is a quite brilliant journey - a voyage where history is turned into literature, and the archives are shaped by invention. It is indeed O'Connor's most inventive novel: brave, comic, ambitious and still, at its core, uniquely contemporary. You might never take a cruise ship across the ocean again. Then again, you might take one just to see how far we've come since the days when there were other lands of youth and promise.
Colum McCann (February 2003)

With his fifth novel, Joseph O'Connor finally takes his rightful place amongst Ireland's finest…Star of the Sea is crampacked with ideas, life stories, tales of sorrow, love and grief. Like a suitcase you have to sit on to close, Star of the Sea is all but bursting at the seams with feverish life. A lesser writer could have written six novels with all the ideas on display here. Told with a nod to the good Dickens (who makes a fleeting appearance in the latter stages of the book), Star of the Sea leapfrogs between characters (all of whom are related to one another in some bizarre and brilliant way), and ends each chapter with the kind of cliffhanger you'd find in a period penny dreadful - you're left aghast, open mouthed, wondering what in hell will happen next!

This book is going to win prizes. From the very first page of the prologue, you know you're in the presence of something truly great. Not just the great we've come to expect from Joseph O'Connor (whose previous novels Inishowen, The Salesman, Cowboys and Indians and Desperadoes are all well worth checking out) - but masterpiece great. Award-winning great. This is the novel Joseph O'Connor was born to write. I picked Peter Carey as the winner in 2001. I picked Yann Martel in 2002. This year, for my money, Joseph O'Connor has the Booker sown up. At the very least. (4 March 2003, unnamed reviewer)

I think it’s a terrific book. I really enjoyed it…It’s fabulous…The stuff about the Famine is actually incredible…I really love the way he weaves fact and fiction…The sense of danger and violence is so vividly portrayed.
Mary O’Sullivan, Rattlebag ‘Book of the Month’ discussion, RTE Radio (7 March 2003)

I absolutely loved it…The writing is delightful…What I loved is the way it worked on so many layers…It’s a murder mystery, but also a book about the Famine…It’s just incredible. People who never picked up a history book will learn more about Irish history from this novel than they would from any number of academic tomes…You could recommend this book to absolutely anyone, and there are very few books you could say that about.
Judy Murphy, Rattlebag ‘Book of the Month’ discussion, RTE Radio (7 March 2003)

Responses to the Irish famine of the 1840s have long been inadequate.... O'Connor's approach, however, is intelligent, considered and well-written. Borrowing the central leitmotiv of Joyce's Ulysses, he tells his story through a number of different viewpoints; equally, he has a Dickensian flair for storytelling, illuminating the personal truth beneath the caricature. In one sense the book is a thriller, purporting to be an historical document. It finds its gravitas, though, in O'Connor's selection of individual details, unveiling lives affected by fondness and loss. It's both refreshing and admirable to see O'Connor moving into new territory, in a book in which the values of storytelling are balanced by the seriousness of his subject.
Patrick Gilmore, Hampstead & Highgate Express (8 March 2003)

O'Connor's luscious book brews the suspense of a thriller with the scope and passion of a Victorian novel -- seasoned in authentic historical detail and served up in language that is equal parts lyrical and gritty….The author loads the ship with compelling characters, and the most intriguing is the vengeful and cunningly manipulative Pius Mulvey…Mulvey deserves a place among the classic villains of literature, just as his creator is earning his spot in the ranks of great Irish storytellers.
Karen Holt, Booklist starred review (15 March 2003)

O'Connor wields his pen as a magician does his wand. His characterization, particularly that of Pius Mulvey, is deft and brilliant. However, O'Connor's greatest achievement is to lure you into this world of broken dreams so inexorably that you can't break away. I had to stay awake reading the last hundred pages although I didn't finish them until well into the small hours. When I eventually turned out the light, I found tears in my eyes, although I had been laughing a moment before. There was even a twist in the very end of the tail. I shall read many historical novels before the year is out, but I doubt whether I shall read one as wonderful as Star of the Sea.
Sally Zigmond, The Historical Novels Review (16 March 2003)

A masterful novel…Star of the Sea is an education in the enmeshed histories of England, Ireland and America, and a lesson on the evils of serfdom and exploitation. It's also a rousing good yarn, full of lively, multi-dimensional characters, vivid historical details and colorful language.
Gary Whitehouse, The Greenman Review (April 2003)

As captivating as they come….A thriller of a tale…
‘C.T.’, Candis Magazine, April 2003

O’Connor brilliantly weaves together an intriguing plot, a cast of memorable characters, and stunningly realistic dialog. A first-rate historical thriller.
Joseph M Eagan, Library Journal starred review (1 May 2003)

Dublin-born author Joseph O’Connor is poised to become the next internationally-known Irish writer if his new historical novel Star of the Sea is anything to go by. A riveting account of a transatlantic voyage on a famine ship, the story is told from multiple points of view. O’Connor’s style is immensely readable, with delicious flashes of wit, and his characters are vividly drawn and memorable.
Irish Echo (New York, 7 May 2003, unnamed writer)

First published in the U.K. and shortlisted for Irish Novel of the Year, this brooding new historical fiction by novelist, playwright and critic O'Connor chronicles the mayhem aboard Star of the Sea, a leaky old sailing ship crossing from Ireland to New York during the bitter winter of 1847…Through flashbacks, the complicated narrative paints a vivid picture of the rigors of life in Ireland in the mid-19th century. The engrossing, well-structured tale will hold historical fiction fans rapt.
Publishers Weekly (May 2003, unnamed reviewer)

Joseph O'Connor's impressive historical novel, Star of the Sea, examines the unsettled personal tragedies among a group of interrelated characters and their difficulties in disregarding the past….Conflict is inevitable, but O'Connor is more interested in the complexity of history and relationships and how each makes reinvention and resolution impossible. O'Connor presents the story as a work of journalism written by Dixon, composed in the era's tabloid style, even including passages from the captain's register and crew interviews. These devices lend the work a sense of authenticity, reinforced by the author's intimate knowledge of the period and his evocative, realistic prose…O'Connor conveys a sense of immediacy and dimension in his ambitious story, providing this uncertain voyage with an ultimate sense of direction.
Ros Doll, (May 2003)

O’Connor draws on a large population of attendant characters, and even the most minor of them jumps off the page…This is a confident and sumpuously entertaining book, filled with the voice of Mr O’Connor’s native Ireland and composed with the sweep of the Atlantic’s horizon.
The Economist (May 2003, unnamed reviewer)

An ambitious, superb, even uplifting tale of the Irish flight from horror. Characters such as Pius Mulvey…are drawn with layer upon layer of vivid background. Along the way O'Connor even brings in a thoroughly gripping murder mystery that is all the more affecting for the depth he gives his characters. They add up to a powerfully symbolic microcosm of the time. BOTTOM LINE: Shining Star.
Scott Nybakken, People Magazine (United States, 19 May 2003)

A hard-to-put-down thriller.
Robert J. Hughes, The Wall Street Journal, “Summer Reading Picks” (30 May 2003)

One of the most extraordinary voices in contemporary Irish fiction. Star of the Sea is perhaps the finest novel of Irish history since Thomas Flanagan’s The Year of the French… O’Connor is the keenest of observers, the possessor of a most supple and versatile prose style, and a man of thrilling historical imaginations. He has written the great novel of the Irish middle passage, and it is hard to imagine anyone doing it better. The scope of Star of the Sea is grand, and its pleasures grander yet.
Paul Ingram, Prairie Lights Bookstore (May 2003)

This historical novel is a devastating portrayal of the enormous emigration after the famine in Ireland in 1847. O'Connor brilliantly combines historical fact with poetic fiction as a number of unique personalities journey from Ireland to New York on the Star of the Sea…O'Connor's writing is impeccable, his illustration of the socio-economic class struggle of the mid-1900's pitch perfect.
Luan Gaines, (May 2003)

In Star of the Sea, Joseph O'Connor has given us the Irish famine novel that Dickens didn't get around to writing…Pius Mulvey drags his crippled leg across the deck under moonlight like any terrible and pitiable villain of the Victorian era, a Frankenstein formed by circumstance rather than science. But this overcrowded boat is too cramped a vista for the big hungry novel O'Connor wants to write, so the passengers' memories transport us into the cold manors and desperate cottages of Ireland, and further on, to London's East End and Newgate Prison, and the mansions of the antebellum South.

[O’Connor is] one of the sharpest of a new generation of Irish authors… writers who [are] assertively contemporary and naturalistic, and belligerent about anything that might smack of sentimental paddywackery. [Star of the Sea] is a revelation -- a novel as Victorian in its storytelling as Great Expectations, and only slightly less strange… O'Connor has found a suitable canvas for all his energies and obsessions -- the wit and the violence, the personal and the political. Even O'Connor's fascination with Irish-American relations finds voice in his righteous Southern journalist Grantley Dixon. He has an enormous gift for sympathy….Everything about the famine was complicated, as one character writes, except the suffering of the poor. O'Connor's novel manages to capture the controversies of that apocalyptic time, without ever forgetting suspense and story. I sat up until 2 a.m. to find out how it would end.
Michelle Griffin, The Readerville Journal (May/June 2003)

This is the ginsu knife of sea fiction, and a great tale of the sea. But wait, there’s more! It’s a satisfying romance [with] a who-dunit thrown in absolutely free!...Joseph O’Connor proves his worth in a well-written adventure tale.
Dave Kaverman, Booksense 76 (May/June 2003)

Joseph O’Connor has written a most breathtaking ample and subtle work, with a richness of atmosphere worthy of Dickens, in which humour exposes tragedy both personal and collective. [With Star of the Sea] Irish literature of today has produced its classic for tomorrow.
Marie-Caroline Aubert, Marie Claire (Paris, June 2003)

His latest novel, Star of the Sea, is a masterpiece.
San Malo Festival Programme (France, June 2003)

Fans of Matthew Kneale's English Passengers and Sheri Holman's The Dress Lodger will find themselves enthralled with this tale of a sea journey from the Emerald Isle across the Atlantic. Brimming with exquisitely rendered characters and historical detail, this captivating tale of mystery and murder combines the elements of the literary novel, historical epic, and thriller to create a muscular work of fiction with a surprising sense of page-turning urgency… Narrated by a fictitious journalist for The New York Times, O'Connor's novel is adroitly studded with interviews and reportage of the 26-day journey… O'Connor splashes onto our shores with formidable proof of his literary gifts, an epic feast of a novel revealing impeccable language skills and an ear for dialogue, combined with a wonderful attention to detail and subtle nuances.
Jill Lamar, from “Discover Great New Writers”, The Barnes & Noble Review
(Star of the Sea
is a Summer 2003 Discovery Selection)

This is a brave and artful novel disguised to appear safe… One can read on for some time as if it were simply a “terror stalks the high seas” thriller, but… O’Connor… lures us into an easy read that, before we know it, becomes a chilling indictment… As a London publisher says midway through the book, this is “a good old thumping yarn”, the sort of thing a reader can “sink his tusks into.” But Star of the Sea is also an agonizing enquiry into the nature of abandonment and the difficulty of finding anyone who will truly care about the fate of others…Dickensian bravado…brilliantly portrayed… O’Connor writes of what George Eliot called that vision of “ordinary human life”, “that roar which lies on the other side of silence”. Few modern writers have exposed with so much passion and skill the protective measures that we wrap around ourselves.
James R. Kincaid, The New York Times Book Review (1 June 2003)

Joseph O’Connor’s brave and artful novel…A ripping yarn, by an Irish critic and playwright, that is also an agonizing enquiry into our vast tolerance for the suffering of others.
‘Bear in Mind’ column, (Editors’ choices of recent books) The New York Times Book Review (8 June 2003. Also selected on June 15th and 22nd.)

by Joseph O'Connor. A Book of the Month Club Alternate Selection.
The big 19th-century novel written by a 21st-century novelist is enjoying a vogue, perhaps because readers have had it with the spare, emotionless stories (or non-stories) of the recent past. So far no one has worked this genre more persuasively than Joseph O’Connor in his new novel, Star of the Sea….In the process…he has turned the conventions of the authentic Victorian-era novel inside out…This is a highly realistic novel, its scenes as sharp and clear as old engravings…But it is also realistic in a way particular to the modern novel, in its reflection of how the past molds the character of the present. That means that moving toward its devastating conclusion is like watching a shipwreck, seeing the rocks loom large, yet still being surprised by the inevitable crash. Star of the Sea is both satisfying and stunning. BOMC Judge Anna Quindlen (June 2003)

O'Connor's magnificent tale is…a teeming, wonderfully told historical novel that corrals many characters and their stories into a satisfyingly robust package. (June 2003, unnamed reviewer.) Star of the Sea is a Borders ‘Original Voices’ selection.

In his haunting new novel, Joseph O’Connor assumes the daunting task of explaining the Great Hunger in human terms…He does a masterly job. ..A fascinating and riveting story and an intriguing mystery…In Star of the Sea, O’Connor has written not only an epic novel, but also a very important one.
Eileen Murphy, The Irish Echo (New York) (June 4-10 2003)

A hard-to-put-down thriller.
Robert J. Hughes, (5 June 2003)

The events which led to the famine, the people who were directly affected by it, and the steps taken to ameliorate or escape it are the subjects of Joseph O'Connor's intense and heartfelt novel, Star of the Sea…As four main characters recall the pivotal experiences of their lives which led them to make this fateful journey, the reader becomes emotionally involved with their stories, acquiring a broad background in Irish social history -- and its tragedies -- in the process…O'Connor's ability to create genuine emotion and high drama keep the reader turning the pages furiously to find out what happens next….O'Connor's imagery, especially his sense imagery, is arresting…O'Connor presents a compelling story with many details of Irish history that the reader will not soon forget. His characters, the social strata they represent, and the ineluctable destinies they face are vividly portrayed and poignant in the emotions they elicit.
Mary Whipple, (June 2003)

Joseph O'Connor tackles a tragedy too long ignored….I am a week late with my review of this book because I just didn't want it to be finished. I love to savor a good book, but this one gets inside your soul….This is one of the best books I've read in a long time, written with the musical lilt of the Irish and a hint of the Erin impishness. O'Connor didn't simply write this book --- he choreographed it.
Kate Ayers, (10 June, 2003) Five star review.

Star of The Sea
easily ranks as one of his best…littered with captivating characters.
Bryan Fox, Irish Voice (New York), (June 2003)

A mature novel that eschews crude characterizations and sustains a clever plot that could have become a Doctorow-like mess, all pistols, evictions, and orphans. There are pistols, evictions, and orphans. But O'Connor uses them sparingly, heightening the drama with alternating narratives and imagining the humiliation of starvation as few writers have since Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote The Great Hunger.…Star of the Sea [is] a feast.
Anna Mundow, The Boston Globe (15 June 2003)

We know that O’Connor has been an explorer of the human heart, but it remarkable how, from book to book, he renews his inspiration…A thrilling crime story, and a subtle tale of the sea….He is a mapmaker of the soul and a master of suspense…This novel is no mere nautical yarn, but a powerful existential journey.
André Clavel, L’Express (France/Switzerland, 19 June 2003)

A wonderful tale to read…Eloquent and moving.
Robert Birnbaum, Identity Theory (Boston, 26 June 2003)

A modern day Dickens.
Peter Schmidtke, Irish American Post (June/July 2003)

With the multiplicity of his points of view, O’Connor displays an incredible ability. He pushes every situation to its extreme. But this extreme mirrors a reality even more extreme and terrifying. These Irish peasants cast out of their homes, these workhouses for the destitute, these scenes of famine in Galway, the condition of life aboard the ships, the imperiousness, the monstrous selfishness of the church authorities and anglo-saxon politicians. There are journeys from which we can never return with impunity. This magnificent and nightmarish voyage on the Star of the Sea proves it. The journey of a truly great novel.
Frédéric Vitoux, Le Nouvel Observateur (Paris, 26 June 2003)

Last year was an especially strong year for new offerings from Irish fiction writers, and few publications impressed more than Joseph O'Connor's ambitious and brave Star of the Sea….It is a human saga rather than an adventure story, as all mankind finds itself trapped on the ship: from the bankrupt lord to the aspiring novelist, from the maidservant with her terrible secret to the stalking killer, Pius Mulvey. Seamus Hosey chose it as his Book of the Year nomination for The Sunday Business Post. ‘This is a big book in which you can live and breathe and move around,’ he wrote. ‘As I reluctantly came to the last page, I had a great sense of horizons expanded and a strong feeling of compassion for `poor naked wretches' caught up in forces and destinies outside their own making. This novel left me with the permanent feeling, as with all great fiction, that, although it may never have happened, it was absolutely true.’
Sunday Business Post ‘Paperbacks’ (30 June 2003, unnamed writer)

To quote the words of another great Irish author, Jonathan Swift, one can tell the
true writer from his art of catching the interest of the reader and keeping it alive till the very last page. O'Connor has learnt this lesson well. But the astonishing fact is that his achievement grows greater, book after book. He never seems to be satisfied with himself. Star of the Sea is without doubt his best work to date. Ripe in characters and plot, the book shows wonderful contrasts between these figures trapped in claustrophobic space. Also admirable are the author's comings and goings between Dickens and Joyce ­ the latter, his fellow Dubliner, who was the saboteur of the novel form in the twentieth century (but who, like Yeats, failed to tackle the Famine tragedy). O'Connor does not seem scared in the least by the overwhelming presence of Joyce; he takes up the challenge and wins.
Il Foglio (Italy, 1 July 2003, unnamed reviewer)

O’Connor, a literary giant in Ireland, expertly spins a compelling, complex story, replete with rich historical detail and a great feel for the complicated workings of the human heart.
Pat McKenna, Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania Citizens’ Voice (27 July 2003)

O'Connor has used the interesting device of presenting the facts of the story through the reporting of an American journalist, the captain of the ship and a series of other commentators, giving a number of conflicting points of view. So authentic do these extracts appear that I wondered at first whether the book was based on historical documents. This authenticity is one of the achievements of this book, an authenticity based on extensive research by the author….Joseph O'Connor has produced a book which grabs the attention from the first page and maintains the atmosphere of the Famine Years to the final chapter.
Pauline Ferrie, Bookview Ireland/Irish Emigrant (12 August 2003)

With regard to his reading of literary and historical accounts of the Irish Famine, writer and journalist Colm Toibin raised two issues concerning what the rational mind wants from history and what we, as readers, want from a story. In Star of the Sea, Joseph O'Connor fulfills both requirements, having a sophisticated grasp of one of the most contentious periods of Irish history, the 'black' famine of 1847, and a gift of storytelling to rival Charles Dickens, without any of the latter's mawkish sentimentality. Sounding the various voices of the fatally star-crossed passengers on a coffin-ship bound for America, O'Connor skilfully intersperses his chapters with illustrated documentary material culled from the archives. Correcting the received view where necessary, restoring responsibility where it is due, he tells the tale with the urgency of the unputdownable thriller writer, allowing his readers to experience the unforgettable emotional impact of one of history's most shameless catastrophes: "A time when things were done -- and other things not done -- as a result of which, more than a million would die." Star of the Sea is a required and riveting read.
Maureen O'Donnell, What's On in London (20 August, 2003)

The major contender for…absolutely-brilliant historical novel of the year is Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor. The editor who read it here first said he was "floored by this -- I just loved it." Sure enough, when I read it after him, I was floored as well….This is just a spectacular novel. It reminded all of us of The Crimson Petal and the White, as well as of Dickens himself (who is a character in the book - I won't reveal how). This is pure pleasure by the page.
Victoria Skurnick, Vice President, Editorial Acquisitions, Book of the Month Club. (September, 2003)

Between 1845 and 1851 the Irish Famine saw that land's population fall, through death and emigration, by almost a quarter. The manifest for the Star of the Sea's 1847 voyage to New York comprised Irish emigrants shoehorned into the putrescent confines of steerage and a handful of first-class passengers. Among the latter are Lord Kingscourt and his family, who have abandoned their debt-ridden Connemara estates, while among the former is an Irishman suborned to murder the nobleman in the name of his decimated tenants. Framed within the recollections, some 70 years later, of a US newspaperman and fellow passenger. O'Connor has written a masterpiece that transports and enlivens from first to last.
The Times (27 December 2003)

"All the lies we spout about dying for one's country ... these are a way of stopping us being afraid. Crush the fear that might otherwise drive us together. Religions. Philosophies. Even countries themselves - they are a kind of lie, too." So says Lord Merridith, English aristocrat and Irish landowner, whose wonderful speech is at odds with the last word spoken to his son - "Out". O'Connor's book is a marvel, with over 400 pages you never want to finish. Star of the Sea is the ship carrying hundreds of Irish passengers to America in 1847, the worst year of the Irish famine. The novel is as sympathetic as it is riveting: there are murderers who commit rare acts of kindness; Irish farmers who kill their own; and English lord who tries to do good; and three characters irrevocably linked, whose lives are laced with misery and damage. The story races between London and Ireland as secrets are revealed with a lightness of touch and a sense of pity that is hard to shake.
The Guardian (27 December 2003)



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