A comic comet that will brighten your day


BOOK OF THE DAY: The Brightest Star in the Sky, by Marian Keyes Michael Joseph, 612pp, £18.99

I WAS bursting with worthy intentions before I began Marian Keyes’s new novel, The Brightest Star in the Sky. I even laid down a few ground rules: I would not give in to the childish impulse to jump up and down with glee while reading. I would remember to speak to my family from time to time. Above all, I would not shun all other work commitments or pretend to have swine flu so I could lie in bed and read without interruption. Oh yes, I was confident I would be able to maintain some sliver of professionalism when it came to reviewing this book. I should have known better.

Things looked bleak for me the second the novel landed with a thud on my desk (oh, the joy of a delicious doorstopper of a tome!) but I just about managed to hold myself in check. There was no need to get giddy with excitement. I fought the temptation to grasp the book with its lovely, cheerful jacket to my bosom and sprint for faraway hills. Instead, I strengthened my resolve to take a measured approach and read a few chapters a day, like any normal person. Fat chance.

Within minutes of taking that first, fateful peek, the fog descended and I was unable to focus on anything else but flying through the pages, agonisingly torn between the frantic urge to read as fast as I could and the opposing desire to slow my pace and prolong the pleasure of the story. Curses! I was hooked.

I went on to cheerfully ignore my nearest and dearest (I also – to my great shame – caused traffic mayhem, more anon) as I whipped through the chapters, consumed by an overwhelming curiosity to solve the puzzle at the heart of this, the author’s tenth novel. I was officially in Marian Lockdown.

The Brightest Star in the Skyfeatures a cast of deftly drawn characters who live at 66 Star Street. Among them are Katie, touching 40 and feeling the pain; Maeve and Matt who are Very Much in Love; Andrei and Jan, two glum Poles; Lydia, a spiky female cabbie driver; and Fionn, the flirtatious gardener. They don’t know it yet, but a mysterious visitor in their midst is about to change all their lives forever. Is it the Grim Reaper? An alien? I can’t tell you, sorry, but although there is darkness at its heart (and it wouldn’t be a Marian Keyes’ story if there wasn’t), the overall tone is so optimistically feel-good that the result is both uplifting and utterly charming. Keyes weaves these characters’ stories together expertly, evoking a mellow, almost retro quality that renders the novel completely addictive. And that’s exactly how I later explained my obsessive-compulsive reading behaviour to friends.

The Brightest Star in the Skyis chicken soup for weary souls in these recessionary times – chicken soup with added spice because, as well as being an endearingly hopeful read, it’s filled with the author’s trademark humour. As one of Lydia the cabbie’s annoying passengers would say, thank you kindly and merci bow-coup for the laughs, Marian.

Now about the traffic incident: I confess I took the opportunity to greedily read a page while stuck at a red light and then sat, blissfully unaware of the mayhem building up behind me, as it changed from red to green and back again.

If you were the person stuck behind me, honking your horn furiously as I read on, oblivious, I have to apologise – but you can’t blame me. Blame Marian – it’s all her fault.

Niamh Greene’s Letters to a Love Rat(Penguin Ireland) is available in paperback