This week’s BotW is Anita Shreve’s new novel, The Stars Are Fire, which came out last week and which I finished at the weekend. Shreve has been on my list of authors that I really ought to have read, and this piqued my interest when I saw it on NetGalley so it seemed like an opportunity to rectify that omission. And it turned out to be a good decision.
The Stars Are Fire is set in Maine in 1947 where Grace Holland is struggling with her marriage. Her husband Gene is distant and won’t talk about the war, her mother-in-law hates her, she has two small children and a third on the way. When a massive fire breaks out after a long summer drought, Gene goes to join the volunteer firefighters to try and prevent it from reaching the town. Grace is left alone to try and defend their house and protect their children. When the flames arrive, she watches her home burn to the ground and is forced into the sea to shelter from the waves. When the morning comes, her home is gone and her husband is missing and she’s forced to try and build a new reality.
I was a little sceptical about this book when I started reading it, and while I still have a few reservations, the book was engrossing and kept me turning the pages eager to know what happened next. My main issue with the book was with Gene, who doesn’t feel like a fully rounded character. You’re not meant to like him, but I struggled to get a sense of who he was and why Grace had been interested in dating him in the first place. For me the most enjoyable part of the book was the middle section, but I always knew that it wasn’t going to last. The final section of the novel felt a little rushed and underdeveloped. I was a little worried about how it was all going to be resolved (or if it was going to be resolved) but at the end I was happy.
That all sounds a little negative, but they’re fairly small quibbles when set against the beautiful writing and how engaging and intriguing Grace is as a character. She’s strong and reslient and seizes opportunities out of the ruins left by the fire. I hadn’t heard of the Great Fire of 1947 before I read this book and Shreve paints a vivid picture of the heat and drought leading up to it as well as the terror of the actual events. The stifling atmosphere before the fire is mirrored in the way that Grace feels in her marriage – although she doesn’t realise how trapped she feels at the time. Although the fire brings her personal loses, it is also the making of Grace and the woman we leave at the end of the book feels very different to the one we met at the start, which makes for a satisfying read.
The Stars Are Fire is out now in hardback (sorry) and ebook. As previously mentioned, my copy came from NetGalley but you can get hold of it from on Kindle or Kobo and from Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles or you could order it from the Big Green Bookshop. I suspect it’s the sort of book that will be out on the tables in bookshops and at the airport, although I don’t suggest that you read it on the beach or somewhere hot as it may leave you paranoid about wildfires! I read it on the train and it made several journeys to and from work fly by.