Monday, 11 May 2015

REVIEW: We Are All Made of Stars by Rowan Coleman

We Are All Made of StarsI was lucky enough to be approved for a proof of Rowan Coleman’s new novel, We Are All Made of Stars (due for publication 21 May 2015), by the publishers Ebury via NetGalley. I haven’t yet read Rowan’s previous novel, The Memory Book, but it has made its way onto my TBR via the recommendation of several friends, who all praised its gentle treatment of a difficult subject and said it had a page-turning quality. So I was therefore very excited to get my hands on a proof of her next novel, especially as I was looking for a pacy, page-turning read following the two 600-page mammoths I tackled last month (see my April Wrap Up post for more on those!)
And I have to say, We Are All Made of Stars did not disappoint .The novel is set around a palliative and respite care home, the Marie Francis Hospice, and is told by multiple narrators who lives gradually intertwine as their connections to the hospice become apparent. There’s Stella, a nurse who writes letters for dying patients to send their loved ones but is herself nursing heartbreak at home; Cystic Fibrosis sufferer Hope, angry at the world because of her condition; and academic researcher Hugh, whose life is more lonely than he’d like to admit.

I sometimes struggle with multiple narrators, finding that by the time I’ve got into one person’s story I’m being forced to switch viewpoints. Oddly though, I didn’t really find this at all with this novel. I enjoyed the different voices, all of which Coleman has made distinct and easily distinguishable, and I found that the layering of the narratives quickened the pace of what can, at times, be a heart-breakingly sad and intensely moving plot. I particularly liked Hope’s voice, a mixture of world-weary sarcasm and humorous observation which made a nice contrast to some of the weightier chapters.

Admittedly there are times when Coleman’s characters do emote a little too openly (and often considerably more eloquently) than I personally found to be believable. A few of the conversations seemed a little deep (as in life, death and the universe deep) given that the characters have only supposedly known each other for a few days. But hey, this is fiction and not everyone has to act like real life. It’s a minor criticism and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this otherwise well-written, well-plotted novel.

Coleman writes with great sensitivity about difficult issues – grief, loss, guilt, trauma – but never loses sight of the humorous, life-affirming moments that keep people going in tumultuous times. I’m not usually a crier when reading but there were moments (well, one particular moment but I won’t divulge – spoilers and all that), that made me feel rather teary and others that had me gasping in shock and laughing out loud. Plus the ending made me squee like a fangirl so that automatically gets the book bonus points.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading We Are All Made of Stars – it reminded me of novels by Jodi Picolt and Dorothy Koomson, both writers who balance an issue-driven plot with excellent characterisation and intertwining narratives. To call the book an easy read would be inaccurate – the subject matter can be very difficult at times – but it was a quick, pacy narrative and it was easy to empathise with all of the characters and get drawn into the story. I can also see this novel being a real hit with book groups as there’s plenty to get your teeth into for discussion purposes but it has that page-turning quality that makes it a quick, enjoyable read. So, if that sounds like your cup of tea, check out We Are All Made of Stars when it’s published on 21 May! As always, I’d love to know your thoughts – or just engage in some book-loving chat – so drop me a comment below or tweet me @amyinstaffs.

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