Book Review: Star Gazing by Linda Gillard and a Giveaway!

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Star Gazing by Linda Gillard was one of the best books I read in April. I have wondered many times how I would cope if I were blind. This book goes some way to describing what it must be like – a world where the other senses are  heightened, where sound is more distinct  and touch and smell of great importance.

Marianne who has been blind from birth, is now widowed and even though she lives with her older sister in Edinburgh she is lonely and angry. Her husband was killed years before in the world’s worst-ever offshore disaster – the Piper Alpha oil rig explosion.  By chance she meets Keir, a solitary Highlander and geophysicist, who also works on the oil rigs, but who spends his time on shore at his house on Skye. Marianne describes his voice as

“… a good dark chocolate, the kind that’s succulent, almost fruity, but with a hint of bitterness. He hit his Highland consonants with the same satisfying ‘click’ that good chocolate makes when you snap it in pieces. (The blind are as fetishistic about voices as the sighted are about appearances, so allow me, if you will to describe this man’s voice as chocolate. Serious chocolate. Green & Black’s, not Cadbury’s.) (page 10)

Despite her misgivings and unwillingness to get involved with another oilman, Marianne trusts Keir when he takes her to Skye to ‘show’ her the stars. Keir is kind and gentle but makes little concession to Marianne’s blindness in contrast to other men she has known.  At times Marianne’s stubborness is quite exasperating, but she is immensely resourceful. One of the most memorable episodes is when Keir has left her on her own at the house on Skye whilst he goes shopping and Marianne, startled by a fall of snow from the roof loses her bearings. Fearful of hypothermia she  struggles desperately through the snow and a frozen pond, before finding the burn that she follows back to safety. I had to hold my breath whilst reading this passage for fear she wouldn’t make it.

The locations in Star Gazing are just beautiful, described so vividly you could almost be there. Marianne falls in love with Keir and with Skye:

I was a fool to think I could resist the island: the scent of daffodils, gorse and primroses; the pitiful bleat of day-old lambs; the symphonic dawn chorus; the knowledge that, a few metres from my muddy, booted feet, grazing in the evening sun (could I actually hear them munching?), were a pair of hares. When they moved away, Keir drew my hand down quickly to the flattened grass where they’d sat, ‘looking like tea-cosies’, and it was warm to the touch. (page 189)

Keir’s comparison between the sights of nature in terms of music is pure genius. This is just one example:

Now if you look to the left of Orion, snapping at his heels you’ll find the brightest star in the sky: Sirius, the Dog Star, Orion’s hunting dog. Sirius is quite close, only eight light years away and it’s forty times more luminous than the sun, so that’s why it’s so bright. Think of … a clarinet, the way it dominates the other instruments of the orchestra. Sirius outshines all the other stars and draws your eye. (page 82)

I loved Star Gazing. It’s not just a love story, it’s also about how we ‘see’ the world, how we interact with other people and how we cope with our disabilities be they physical, emotional or otherwise. The epigraph from William Blake is I think very apt, ‘As a man is, so he sees.’ I liked this so much that I had to find its context:

    1. The tree that moves some to tears of joy
    1. Is in the Eyes of the others only a Green thing
    1. that stands in the way.
    1. Some See Nature all Ridicule & Deformity,
    1. & by these I shall not regulate my proportions;
    1. & Some Scarce see Nature at all.
    1. But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination,
    1. Nature is Imagination itself.
    1. As a man is, So he Sees.
    As the Eye is formed, such are its Powers.

Linda has kindly sent me a signed copy of Star Gazing as a Giveaway book. Leave a comment on this post telling me why this book interests you for a chance to win it in the draw next Monday.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: Star Gazing by Linda Gillard and a Giveaway!”

  1. I really loved Linda Gillard’s other books and this one sounds just as good. Would love to be in the draw please.

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  2. Oh yes please, enter my name. I’ve read books by a blind author using a sighted POV and vice versa. Intriguing to observe how they skillfully present their protagonists’ viewpoints.

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  3. I would love to read this book because I have never read a book about a blind person and you have made it seem like a very intriguing and beautiful story.

    crystalfulcher*at*ec.rr.com

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  4. This sounds wonderful. Who hasn’t answered the question of which of the 5 senses would be the most horrifying to lose? Okay, maybe my friends and I are the only ones, but I cannot imagine losing my sight.
    Please enter me 🙂

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  5. Thanks for the lovely review, Margaret. I think everyone’s favourite scene is where Marianne gets lost in the snow. When I planned this, I never intended to write it in the first person (ie from her blind “point of view”) because I didn’t think it would be possible to sustain reader interest with no visuals, but I gather from readers it turned out ok. 😉

    Stacey – I gave your Q (Which sense could you really not spare?) a lot of thought while I was writing the book. I came to the conclusion that for me, hearing was the most important. I’m also convinced it gives you the most information.

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  6. I’d love to win this book! I’ve read so many positive reviews on blogs over the past year or so, yet my library (the entire inter-library loan system!) doesn’t have any of her books.

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  7. Shocked to hear about the absence of my books in your libraries, JoAnn! You might like to mention to your local librarian that STAR GAZING was shortlisted for Romantic Novel of the Year 2009 and EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY was shortlisted for the Waverton Good Read award in 2005. (That’s for best first novel by a UK author.)

    I think I’m right in saying that libraries are obliged to order any book that you request. You might be interested to know that most authors’ earnings are so pitiful that PLR (the public lending rate) forms a significant part of our income.

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  8. What a beautiful review. You got me right away with the description of Keir’s voice. Of course you would use what is familiar in one of your senses to understand what you are experiencing in another. This example is going to have me thinking about this all day.

    Please enter me in your contest. Whether I win or not, I want to read this book.

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  9. I really love your review. I am very intrigued by the POV. The description of Keir’s voice has me wanting to know more about him. The way Keir describes the Stars quote has made me curious about their interaction with one another…he is very descriptive.
    Those are just a few reasons as to why I want to read Star Gazing.

    ibeeeg(at)gmail(dot)com

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  10. I’ve had this on my TBR pile for ages (so please don’t enter me in the draw) – your review makes me think I should be moving it up the pile!

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  11. I’d love to read this book; it sounds great. I love the comparison of Keir’s voice to chocolate (especially since I can totally relate to the “serious chocolate” part — I’m a chocolate snob too!). I’d also love to revisit Skye with Marianne and Keir (I was there years ago and it’s a beautiful spot). Great review, by the way!

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  12. Okay, you got me at “giveaway” but having read the review, this book is now on my Amazon wishlist because I will either get it for myself or as a gift. As a nature lover, I fear losing my eyesight, and yet this story shows that the visual is but one dimension of nature, just a eyesight is but one sense. The excerpts show the writing to be very fine–crisp and clean and rich. Plus it takes place in Scotland, and if you didn’t get me at “giveaway” you would’ve got me at “Skye.”

    Sometimes I forget that a book doesn’t have to be written in the 1800s be the kind of book I like…thanks.

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  13. I have a passion for music, and the musical description was lovely. I had also never realized that Sirius was the dog star (adds another layer of understand to J.K. Rowling’s character Sirius in the Harry Potter books). The writing seems beautiful from the quotes listed here.

    akreese (at) hotmail (dot) com

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