ShortBookandScribes #BookReview – The Stargazers by Harriet Evans

The Stargazers by Harriet Evans will be published by Headline tomorrow in hardcover, ebook and audiobook. My thanks to Rosie Margesson for the proof copy.

‘Don’t you think there should be a name for people like us?’ he said. ‘Who look up and who dream of more, who dream of escaping? Who never lose faith, no matter how hard it becomes?’

‘Stargazers,’ I said. ‘That’s what we are’

It’s the 1970s, and Sarah has spent a lifetime trying to bury memories of her childhood: the constant fear, the horror of her school days, and Fane, the vast, crumbling house that was the sole obsession of her mother, Iris, a woman as beautiful as she was cruel. Sarah’s solace has been her cello and the music that allowed her to dream, transporting her from the bleakness of those early years to her new life with her husband Daniel in their safe, if slightly chaotic, Hampstead home and with a concert career that has brought her fame and restored a sense of self.

The past, though, has a habit of creeping into the present, and as long as Sarah tries to escape, it seems the pull of her mother, Fane Hall and the secrets hidden there cannot be suppressed, threatening to unravel the fragile happiness she enjoys now. Sarah will need to travel back to Fane to confront her childhood, and search for the true meaning of home.

Deliciously absorbing and rich with character and atmosphere, The Stargazers is the story of a house, a family, and finding the strength inside yourself to carry on.

The Stargazers is a sweeping epic of a story with an uncomfortable and disturbing dark thread of cruelty that, for me, felt a bit different from Harriet Evans’ previous works. Set mainly in two very distinctive timelines, the 1950s and the 1970s, with added sections from the 1920s and 2020, this is a story of family and whether home is a place in which you live or whether it’s a person and no matter where you live, as long as you’re with them you’re home.

Sarah is the main character. In the 1970s she’s moved into a new house with her husband, Daniel. It’s a chance to put her terrible childhood at Fane Hall behind her. Her mother, Iris, is a nasty and unkind person, with no redeeming features, who treated Sarah and her sister Victoria, abysmally. With Daniel and her beloved cello, Sarah hopes to move on into a brighter future. Fane Hall is always there in the background though, a crumbling stately hall which, like many after the wars, fell into disrepair. The 1950s sections give us an insight into Sarah’s childhood spent partly at Fane and it’s impossible to feel anything but horror at her upbringing.

I had some mixed feelings about this book. I felt at times that it didn’t fully reel me in and despite everything the characters go through I didn’t really take to any of them and feel the empathy and care for them I might have expected to feel, and yet at other times I was so heavily invested that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page. It’s absolutely beautifully written and I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it and I think it’s a book that will stay with me. It’s an all-encompassing sort of read. I don’t know if I was being a bit dense but there are three moments that caused an eye-widening reaction where I was really surprised by a twist in the tale and Evans did an amazing job at dropping them in at just the right time.

The Stargazers is heart-wrenching and shocking, a family story with a dark edge, a mesmerising but broken setting in Fane Hall, and a childhood that has consequences that will last the whole of Sarah’s life. A fascinating, rich and unforgettable read in many ways.

Harriet Evans has sold over a million copies of her books. She is the author of thirteen bestselling novels, most recently The Beloved Girls, a Richard and Judy Book Club Selection and the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Garden of Lost and Found, which won Good Housekeeping’Book of the Year. She used to work in publishing and now writes full time, when not distracted by her children, other books, gardening, her jumpsuit collection and now star-gazing, having acquired a telescope whilst researching The Stargazers. She volunteers with Inspiring the Future, is an ambassador for the London Library and last year was elected to the Management Committee of the Society of Authors. She lives in the greatest city in the world (Bath) with her family.

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