By Helen Sedgwick
Harper (October 11, 2016)
Reviewed by Billie Hinton
Helen Sedgwick’s The Comet Seekers is an absolutely beautiful novel: spare, elegant, and as full of light as the comets that offer its structure. Sedgwick, writer, editor, and a former research physicist, has a gift for language and metaphor. Her prose soars.
The story begins in 2017 and travels back and forth in time, spanning centuries that are marked by comets whose names and characteristics reveal personalities of their own: Giacobini, West, Halley’s, Shoemaker-Levy, Donati’s, Hyakutake, the embroidered comet, Hale-Bopp, McNaught, Skjellerup-Maristany, Lovejoy, Arend-Roland, and Ikeya-Seki. Each comet heralds a new piece of the novel, which centers on two love stories: one between two cousins, the other between a mother, her family of ghosts, and her son.
Roísín and Liam, cousins who grow up together and fall in love as teens, are watchers of the night sky, Liam deeply rooted in the earth of the farm his family owns and tends, Roísín drawn to the vast skies and the comets that streak across them. Although Roísín follows her passion and becomes an astronomer, she never stops feeling the pull to Ireland and Liam, and eventually tries to return to him. Life on the farm, even with Liam there, isn’t enough to offset the loss of her work. Her decision to return to astronomy is difficult, but necessary, and she is drawn to the brutal cold and emptiness of Antarctica to continue her research.
Severine raises her son François in Bayeux, France, amidst a bevy of family, but the family members who occupy her energy and attention are not able to be seen or heard by François. As he grows to adulthood he comes to understand that these are his mother’s ghosts. Severine tries to escape the lure and familiarity of her ghostly family to travel the world with her son, hoping to free him from her own emotional ties to a house full of the past. She cannot carry this out, and both she and François stay in Bayeux where he becomes a chef. When Severine finally convinces François to leave her to expand his world, a sudden opportunity takes him far away. The two love stories converge in a compelling, magical meeting in Antarctica, as rare and beautiful as the comet Giacobini streaking through space overhead.
The Comet Seekers is a tale of science and the night sky, love and loss, grief that binds, and the pure shining joy that happens when two paths cross in a cosmos of synchronicity.
BILLIE HINTON is an author and contributing editor to LitChat. Read her complete bio here.