Reading this was a bit of a departure from the books that have been drawing my interest lately. However, it was set in Ireland and sounded like an intriguing sort of historical novel. The Blind Astronomer's Daughter (due to publish October 11, 2016) is a meticulously detailed story of men's search of the heavens and on a smaller scale, of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. My favorite books are those that entertain with a good story while at the same time informing me of a new time or place, and this one definitely fit the bill! The writing style vaguely reminds me of Dickens.
The story spans many decades and encompasses two distinct families or people groups. Arthur Ainsworth and William Herschel are two astronomers countries apart, but both scouring the heavens for new plants, comets, stars - and always trying to build bigger, better telescopes for viewing outer space. Ainsworth's interest though, is a true obsession that controls his every movement and spills over onto his daughter and the tenants of his property and in the long run, drives him truly mad. His daughter, Caroline, even years after his death, is never truly free from the influence of his obsession even as she forges her own path in the world.
Caroline, I feel, is truly the main character of this book - even though we spend at least half of the book following other characters around. In the end it all comes back to her story. While I admired her tenacity, it all had a very bittersweet, melancholy feel to it. Had I been in her place, I would probably have given up to despair many times over but she just keeps on picking herself up and trudging along. Her story does not have a happy ending, per se, but it has a hope of happiness that is probably a good deal more realistic.
Now for the issues I had with the book. To be honest, until I was about halfway through, I genuinely regretted volunteering to read it! Like I already said, it's quite different from the majority of books I've been reading lately. I've really drifted away from the more literary style, and this was not only literary but the author made the genuinely absurd decision to write the entire thing in 3rd person present tense. For some reason, I find that annoying in the extreme. Maybe it was in an attempt to bring us closer to the events of the book, but it was completely unnecessary and I think the usual past tense form would have worked much better. The descriptions are lovely but long winded. The characters in the beginning, are generally not all that interesting or sympathetic - Finn is the exception. I liked Finn all the way through, even more than I liked Caroline. Arthur Ainsworth should be sympathetic, as he has a pretty darn rough start in life, and Fate seems to conspire to kick him when he's down, but overall he just comes across as having no backbone at all and being an inconsiderate ass that never thinks of anyone but himself.
Then we spend pages and pages and PAGES on astronomical details. Which is great and everything, and the amount of research required just staggers me, buuuuut...zzzzzzz. Also at one point we spend an ENTIRE chapter following Herschel's climb up a ladder. Where was the editor on that one? Seriously.
I knew very little about any of the Irish rebellions before reading this book. I'm still far from educated but I have a lot more facts than I did before! Also I think Pipkin managed to convey humanity in the midst of the bloodbath, even as it tears the country (and our story) apart. I personally never recovered from the battles of the rebellion as I read...one particular thing, I can't put in plain English without giving out spoilers...but I kept hoping and hoping that somehow, this thing would turn out differently and it wasn't until the last couple of chapters I gave up. I was so sad, it took me hours to go to sleep the night I finished it. Like I said before though...the story still ends with that hope of happiness, even if it wasn't the ending I was looking for.
3.5/5 stars. It's a really good story, more realistic than we often want from our books, I think, but a beautiful tale nevertheless.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury USA for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review! This in no way affects my rating or opinion of the book itself.