Star Gazing by Linda Gillard

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I don’t read many romance novels, but I received an email from the author explaining that this book had been short-listed for 2 awards in 2009 – Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award, the UK’s first environmental book award. This combination of awards intrigued me and so decided to give it a try. I was surprised when readers of Women’s Weekly voted it the best romance novel of the last 50 years as I thought that a more well known author would win, but it made me very curious about the contents of this little book.

Star Gazing is set in Scotland and focuses on Marianne, a blind woman who was widowed in her twenties. Now in her forties and living with her sister in Edinburgh she has resigned herself to a life alone, but all this changes when a mysterious man turns up on her doorstep.

I was immediately impressed by the quality of the writing. The descriptions of what life is like when you are unable to see were amazing and I felt that I came understand how she viewed the world.

I tell sceptics and doubters that I go to the opera because opera pours a vision of a wider world into my ears in a way that excites me. Plays, novels and poems move, entertain and educate me, but they don’t rock me to my foundations and make me see. I can read Tolstoy’s account of the French retreat from Moscow, either in Braille or as an audio-book, but I have never seen a city. Or snow. I’ve never seen a man, let alone an army. Tolstoy uses a visual language that I can read, haltingly. It’s not my mother tongue.
But music I can ‘read’ much more easily. In fact, I don’t need to read it at all. When I hear music it goes directly to my heart, it pierces my soul and stirs me with nameless emotions, countless ideas and aural pictures.

The characters were all well developed and engaging, but this book turned me into a gossiping woman! It was a very weird experience that I have never encountered with a book before. I found that I didn’t like the central character and wanted to slap her on numerous occasions. I told several people about the stupid things she’d done and had lengthy conversations about her decisions. This makes the book a perfect choice for book groups as I guarantee that you will enjoy discussing the events in this book.

I also had a problem with some of the plot towards the end of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but a few things were a bit far-fetched and I’m afraid I’m a miserable sceptic who has trouble believing that people can have visions of future events.

Despite these criticisms I think the fact I wanted to talk about this book so much proves its quality. I don’t think it is the best romance novel of the last 50 years (The Time Traveller’s Wife  and The Dark Side of Love are my favourites), but it is an original, heartwarming book. 


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  1. LindyLouMac says:

    The quality of Linda Gillard’s writing has in my opinion improved with each book published, she just seems to get better and better. It is great that you have recommended this though especially as you are not a fan of the genre.

    Surely TTW was far fetched? Interestingly enough neither of your choices appeared on the list.

    1. Jackie says:

      LindyLouMac, Thank you for sharing the long list – I hadn’t seen that before. I am surprised by the books included as the few I’ve read weren’t that romantic. Star Gazing would easily beat those that I have read.

      I agree that TTW was farfetched, but it just took one unreal scenario and showed how a couple dealt with it in a very moving, realistic way.

      The problem with Star Gazing was that it was trying to be realistic (I assume) and so stretched realism to the limit.


      Forgetting the speed with which she headed off to Skye (which I can almost believe) I found the hostage taking a bit too convenient. I actually had a long discussion with my husband about this. He thought it was OK and questioned how else the man could disappear for several months without contact. I thought a car crash + coma would be a good way, but he thought that was too predictable!

      I also question how she could be without his contact details in this modern world. It isn’t very difficult to get in touch with people – especially once you’ve been to their house. I could go on, but I’ll calm the gossiping side of me down!

      1. Replying to SPOILER…

        Can’t resist pointing out that Keir’s disappearance is based on an almost identical real-life event that made headline news. An oil worker was kidnapped by pirates in Nigeria and held to ransom. His wife was subsequently informed he was dead and she told their children. Then she got a phone call from her husband in Nigeria saying reports of his death were exaggerated.

        But that’s the trouble with real life. It’s so far-fetched. ;-)

        1. I so agree with Linda here. I used to think J.A. Jance came up with ridiculous plots until I moved to Tucson and started reading the local newspapers! :–)

      2. LindyLouMac says:

        I thought you might find the long list interesting if you had not already seen it.

        As for your other comments I see Linda has responded herself :)

        Your review has certainly made for some interesting discussion here.

  2. Amy says:

    I’m a skeptic of the romance in romance books usually, but that excerpt is really interesting!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I think the problem with a lot of romance books is that they are so slushy and sentimental – this book is neither of those and has a lot more depth. If you like the excerpt then you’ll probably enjoy the rest of this one. :-)

  3. Charlie says:

    I’ve read both negative and positive reviews of this, but I like the sound of the detail in how the character experiences things. I don’t read much romance unless it’s part of, say, a historical fiction, but this appeals.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, That was the main thing I loved about this book. I’m not a big fan of classical music, so a lot of the musical references went over my head, but some of the descriptions of how she can visualise trees using the sound of rain etc were outstanding. I almost wish I could be blind for a while so I could experience it.

  4. Thanks very much for your thoughtful review. I love to think of my characters provoking so much discussion!

    I certainly don’t think of myself as an author of “romance” and I don’t read it myself (apart from Georgette Heyer) but STAR GAZING has been labelled romance because of the awards it has been nominated for and won. Publishing likes to pigeonhole because it helps them to market books. (WW readers actually voted for their “favourite” romantic novel but the press changed that to “best”.)

    I tell potential readers that STAR GAZING is a anti-romantic novel for people who can’t stand romance. Marianne is 45, blind widowed and bad-tempered. Even the hero describes her as “crabbit”!

    1. Jackie says:

      Linda, Thank you for writing such a wonderful book!

      I do feel sorry for the way books are pigeon-holed into a single genre, but at least your cover isn’t pink and fluffy ;-)

      I definitely felt that this was an anti-romance book in places! It was so weird to read a book where I disliked the central character so much, but couldn’t tear myself away from her. My main thought when reading this book was ‘How could she be so stupid?’ I really wish I had read this as part of a book group as my friends can only discuss the individual questions

      (like how can you tell the love of your life to go away??!!!)

      If I ever get my new book group running then this will be my first suggestion!

      1. I know you said you’re not a music fan but do you know the story of DER ROSENKAVALIER? A woman of a certain age (who’s definitely peaked) sends her toyboy packing because she’d rather dump him than be dumped and she knows it’s only matter of time. I think CHERI has the same storyline…?

        You have to remember we know Keir is the hero. Marianne *doesn’t.” ;-)

        1. Jackie says:

          Linda, I haven’t heard of DER ROSENKAVALIER before, but that case sounds very different. I’ve seen many stories where the person wants to dump before being dumped, but never when the other person loves them a lot. Perhaps I just don’t know the reality of romance as my love life has been very simple (married childhood sweetheart and been happy ever since :-) )

          1. SPOILER ALERT
            Marianne has been pregnant once before, remember. When she told her husband the news, he said he didn’t want the baby and he was killed the same day. Telling Keir about an unplanned pregnancy is a very big deal for Marianne. Her other issue is that while she’s prepared for Keir to leave *her*, she’s not prepared for him to abandon their son. (p.243) She thinks it will be easier to live without Keir than to watch him walk away.
            Marianne has an essentially pessimistic view of life. But she lost her husband and then her baby. Whatever she has, she fears to lose.

  5. Brenna says:

    “I’m afraid I’m a miserable skeptic..” You are funny! And more often than not it’s better to be a skeptic. Anyway, this sounds interesting but like you, I don’t read many romance novels. The Time Traveler’s Wife still remains my favorite, with One Day closely behind.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, I haven’t read One Day yet, but have it on the pile. I loved Starter for Ten so I have high hopes for it!

  6. Steph says:

    “a blind woman who was widowed in her twenties…”

    This as a framing premise seems so over-the-top melodramatic to me! It’s the kind of thing that would turn me off from reading a book, I’m afraid. I always have a hard time buying stories in which so many miseries befall one person. Not necessarily because I get too saddened by the bad stuff, but I really wonder what the likelihood of so much sadness following one person without reprieve is!

    1. Marianne was born blind, which she certainly doesn’t see as “a misery” that befell her. And I have no reason to believe that blind married people are spared the accidental or natural death of spouses.

      What interested me was how very different an experience bereavement is for the blind.

    2. Jackie says:

      Steph, I’m with Linda on this one. I see nothing wrong with a blind women being widowed – it was what happened to her after that that stretched the imagination a little too far ;-)

      I also think that some people seem to attract miseries (and some happiness) through their own actions. It is also a probability thing – some people win, some lose. :-(

      But if you have a problem with the premise then you’re probably best to stay away from this one – it gets a lot more unbelievable than that!

  7. JoV says:

    We all have to stop being a “miserable sceptic” sometimes, I’m as miserable as sceptical a person can be.. :) but I’m reading “Mini Shopaholic” by Sophie Kinsella now and I do want to slap Becky the shopaholic loads of time, because she is so stupid! Yet, I read on…

    It is strange but true, that despite the need to stay objective most of the time, the inherent gossipy nature in us all craves for more gossips. ;)

    p/s: I really must read “The Dark Side of Love”

    1. Jackie says:

      JoV, I haven’t read any Sophie Kinsella, but I imagine the issues are similar. It is probably good for us to realise that some people have no common sense – at least they are entertaining to read about. :-)

    2. Lucy says:

      Oh it’s much less ‘chick-litty’ than Sophie Kinsella. I even have qualms with labelling it as romance, although that’s probably the closest you’d get a category for it. I didn’t like Marianne much but still liked the books, Becky though I found annoying to the point that I’ve given up on the shopahollic series.

  8. Sandy says:

    I know you are not a romance kind of girl, and neither am I, so that alone speaks volumes. And I kind of have a soft spot for books that get pigeon-holed. Just by calling it “romance” would automatically make people run the other way, and that just isn’t fair, especially for a book like this which is not a bodice-ripper in any way shape or form. I will definitely be putting this one on my list. (I second the motion of putting One Day at the top of the “romantic” list. It melted my cold little heart.)

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, That is great news! I’m sure that you’ll enjoy it. I think you’ll like the Scottish scenery too :-)

      I’ll try to dig my copy of One Day out of the pile before the end of the year too. I hope it melts my heart as much as it did yours.

  9. Jeane says:

    I never ever read romance but you know what, this book sounds interesting!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, This isn’t your typical romance book. I think you might like it :-)

  10. Iris says:

    I hadn’t heard of this book before, but I do enjoy a good romance book. Or well, if they’re comparible to The Time Traveler’s Wife for instance :) Thanks for pointing this out to me.

    1. Jackie says:

      Iris, This book has very little in common with TTTW, but if you enjoy a good romance then I think you’d love this one.

  11. sakura says:

    I’ve heard quite a bit about this book, and although it’s not a premise I would normally reach out for, the reviews have all been great and I’m putting this on my extremely long wishlist to read at some point:) Many reviewers have commented on the quality of writing and that’s piqued my interest.

  12. Erin says:

    I love the cover on Star Gazing, and the quote you’ve included in your review is lovely. I don’t read much romance, but you’ve piqued my interest. I like books that inspire discussion, as long as I have someone with which to discuss them!

    1. I wrote a reading guide for book groups because I thought there was plenty to argue about. (It has two independent-minded, middle-aged female protagonists! Need I say more? ;-) There are also ecological issues because the hero is both oil man and wildlife conservationist.

      SG was short-listed for an environmental writing award sponsored by Forestry Commission Scotland and I confess I’m much prouder of that than the romance short-listings & award, simply because I don’t see SG as a romance. I see it as a book about landscape – in this case the Isle of Skye where I lived for 6 years.

      1. Jackie says:

        Linda, I have to admit that I wondered why a book about an oil man won an environmental award – but that made another good discussion ;-)

    2. Jackie says:

      Erin, You don’t need someone else to have read it to discuss it with them (although that would be much better!) You can always come back and discuss it with me when you’ve read it. :-)

    3. You can discuss it with me, Erin! (Contact me via my website or join me on Facebook.)

      I LOVE discussing my books with readers, even when they don’t love the characters as much as I do. Readers have seen so much in my books that I had no idea was there. Their insights and reviews sometimes make me feel quite stupid. LOL

  13. Lucy says:

    I read this last year (I think) after hearing about Linda Gillard on a book forum (I read Emotional Geology first). I really liked this one, more than Emotional Geology. I didn’t really like Marriane either, in fact I think I generally had similar feelings to you.

    My review isn’t on my blog yet, I’m in the middle of transferring stuff over from my thread on the forum, but you can see it on said forum:

    My reviews of Emotional Geology and A Lifetime Burning are on my blog however.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lucy, “her logic was so….wonky. I understood it but never agreed”

      I love the term wonky!! I don’t think I ever understood her though. Too wonky for me!!

  14. Kathleen says:

    I’m not usually a big fan of books in this genre but this one sounds thought-provoking and not too formulaic so I think I would like it. I haven’t read The Time Traveler’s Wife either but I look forward to reading it in the future!

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, There is nothing formulaic about Star Gazing!

  15. I also do not pick romance as a first choice and to be honest I’m always surprised to see TTW on romance lists! I can’t explain why…

    I have jottled down a few books from your recent posts that I will see if my library has (hopefully on audio).

    This is the first visit for me, I clicked through from BBA (Judith’s blog).

    1. Jackie says:

      Mari, Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time :-)

      I think TTW is such a romantic book – all that waiting for a person who may or may not come back. It was so emotional, but I guess it could never be called conventional romance and has probably never appeared on a romance shelf.

      I hope that you enjoy the books you picked from my blog.

  16. I loved Gillard’s EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, and have this sched’d to read over the December holidays. I guess EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY could be considered a romance – there are relationships that develop in it – but, I wouldn’t call it “romantic.” The writing is fantastic – descriptions of people, places, and actions are vivid.

    1. Thanks, Dawn, for saying EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY isn’t “romantic”. ;-) When I was writing it my agent and I discussed the thorny issue of the “romance” tag. She said, “You don’t write romance, you write love stories.”

      I’ve pondered this for some years now and still haven’t got to the bottom of it. My interim pronouncement? A romance has no pretensions to verisimilitude. But a love story might and the best ones do.

    2. Jackie says:

      Dawn, I’ll keep an eye out for your Star Gazing review. I’ll be interested to see which book you prefer.


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