Published by Pantheon on January 19, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
From the acclaimed author of The Last First Day: a beautiful new period novel—a nineteenth-century story of female empowerment before its time—based on the life of Caroline Herschel, sister of the great astronomer William Herschel and an astronomer in her own right.
This exquisitely imagined novel opens as the great astronomer and composer William Herschel rescues his sister Caroline from a life of drudgery in Germany and brings her to England and a world of music-making and stargazing. Lina, as Caroline is known, serves as William’s assistant and the captain of his exhilaratingly busy household. William is generous, wise, and charismatic, an obsessive genius whom Lina adores and serves with the fervency of a beloved wife. When William suddenly announces that he will be married, Lina watches as her world collapses.
With her characteristically elegant prose, Brown creates from history a compelling story of familial collaboration and conflict, the sublime beauty of astronomy, and the small but essential place we have within a vast and astonishing cosmos. Through Lina’s trials and successes, we witness the dawning of an early feminist consciousness, of a woman struggling to find her own place among the stars.
Before coming across THE STARGAZER’S SISTER, I had never heard of Caroline Herschel. Now that I know more about her, I’m sad she’s been lost to history, likely because she was overshadowed by her more famous brother, and also because she was a woman.
THE STARGAZER’S SISTER is not a feel good book. But I think it is realistic of a woman’s life in the late 1700s. Lina’s early life is cruel, including an abusive mother and typhus. Typhus condemns her to an even crueller future, as it marks her face and body, leaving her unsuitable for marriage. When brother William rescues her, bringing her to England to assist his research, life is still difficult. But for the first time ever, Lina is happy — even if all of her genius does go towards supporting William and his eventual discoveries.
I did enjoy reading about Lina, especially her later life, when she had more independence and made her own astronomical observations. But I did have trouble understanding Lina’s intense devotion to William. I also wasn’t a fan of the literary style of THE STARGAZER’S SISTER, but that’s because I’m not a fan of literary books. If you’re expecting straight-up historical fiction, you might want to check out a sample of the book.
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