Book review: The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden

World War 1 fiction

About The Stars in the Night

Harry Fletcher is a confident young man.

Harry’s sure that he will marry Nora MacTiernan, no matter what their families say. He’s certain that he will always be there to protect Eddie, the boy his father saved from the gutters of Port Adelaide.

Only the War to End All Wars might get in the way of Harry’s plans…

From the beaches of Semaphore to the shores of Gallipoli, the mud of Flanders to the red dust of inland South Australia, this is a story of love, brotherhood, and resilience.

My Thoughts

The Stars in the Night opens on a grieving Harry Fletcher missing his wife, Nora. His granddaughter is helping him go through Nora’s things. She discovers a journal, composed in WW1 and she insists on hearing her grandfather’s story.

After a charming portrait of the old man, Harry – heavy of heart, his mind laden with memories – and descriptions of Semaphore, his childhood, his friends and family, the narrative shifts back to the war. First to Gallipoli and then ultimately to Passchendaele, where Harry and his foster brother, Eddie, live out the day-to-day reality of trench warfare.

The Stars in the Night captures all that World War One was at a very human level, focussing on the before, the during and the aftermath of survivors picking up their lives. This is a story of resilience, of tragedy, of coming to terms, and of love and hope. At times unbearably sad, at others triumphant and even a little funny, the novel paints a picture of war that is intimate, showing how events occurring in the trenches impacted on the lives of a small coastal village in Australia.

Rhoden is careful not to portray her protagonist, Harry, in a stereotypical Aussie bloke fashion. The prose has a distinctly Australian flavour, the tone carrying a hint of Aussie vernacular, but that voice is thankfully not over-played. Rhoden has crafted real men with cares and troubles and shame and big hearts.

Plotting, pacing, characterisation are all excellent. The structure – a patchwork of carefully woven scenes interspersed with letters and fragments of Eddie’s diary – works perfectly. The story is well-researched. Scenes in the trenches are graphic enough and horrifying. Rhoden’s prose comes into its own during the battle scenes:

“Now all his senses were stretched alive. The riven darkness slashed his vision, violently radiant with fire, while the air bucked, furrowed by metal. The noise pushed against his ears and the deceitful duckboards beneath him wore a slimy reptilian coat.”

Such visceral prose that abounds throughout to my mind places The Stars in the Night in the canon of novels set in WW1. This is the smoothest, most unpretentious and laid-bare engaging war story I have read in a long time. Rhoden is a master storyteller, displaying insight, restraint and empathy. Rhoden has crafted a gem of a story that I hope becomes a set text in Australian schools. Unputdownable.

3 thoughts on “Book review: The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden

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