the novel is set in a dark time for ireland, in 1847, during the potato famine that starved a million people, and set a further million to seek out new homes outside their native land. the main narrative is a book within a book, which further synthesizes other accounts from a variety of sources (like the captain's log, personal accounts, and correspondence of the passengers, and other documentation) ostensibly written by one of the characters in the novel, g.g. dixon, in a book describing his experience as an american journalist returning to new york from a trip to england and ireland on the ship which gives the book its name. the eponymous ship not only carries dixon, but lord kingsbrooke, david merridith, who can no longer afford to keep his estate afloat because of debts he inherited and the devastation, and as landowner is held accountable by some of the poor folk for their troubles. the ship also carries a variety of other first class passengers, and the hold is overfilled with steerage (read: poverty-stricken) passengers desperately trying to survive the hunger that has driven them from their home, and a man who has been picked to kill kingsbrooke before he ever sets foot in america.
i picked up the star of the sea because i was positively enchanted by his novel, ghost light. though lacking the intimacy of ghost light, in the star of the sea, o'connor continues to impress me with his virtuosity as a writer: he plays with style, structure, and point of view to great effect, and i can't say enough how impressed i am. this man is an adept: slipping from one kind of account to another, making them all blend together in a startling and deeply moving piece of historical fiction. underlying the historical action, that potential murder that weaves itself through the novel, making the tragedy of the times and the concerns of the people so immediate, also makes you wonder if it will be done, and if so, by whom.
this is a novel so artfully constructed that i was often surprised to find connections where i did not expect any at all. i would really rate it 4 1/2 stars if i could, just missing a five because it did take longer for me to sift the threads at first than i expected but once i was in, i was all in. o'connor is a real and consummate talent, and i doff my hat to him.