The Brightest Star In The Sky is a far better book than it should be, given that it thoroughly botches one of its major threads. It’s a big, sprawling, goofy novel that switches tones as ably as it shifts perspectives between the many residents of a small building divided into four flats, and the other people in their lives. One chapter is fairly standard chick-lit about a woman turning 40 and trying to figure out whether she should value herself or pursue love at all costs. Another is a tale of illicit love and immigrants in the big city. And still another is a heartrending, surprisingly dark story about a young couple realizing how little their connection will carry them past life’s harsher moments.
Author Marian Keyes is best known for her female characters, and she tosses a boatload of good ones in here, even though most of them land squarely within the realm of cliché. (There’s an old-lady psychic and the aforementioned fortysomething who’s unlucky in love, for God’s sake.) But in Brightest Star, Keyes does just as able a job with her male characters. While they also don’t diverge much from familiar types, she turns a workaholic and a man struggling to hold on to his and his wife’s sanity into deeply felt portraits of a kind of fantasy of masculinity.
However, the novel’s narrator—an unnamed spirit that haunts the building and only gradually reveals its intentions—pushes an already twee novel a little too far over the fine line separating good twee (Gilmore Girls, seasons one through five) from bad (Gilmore Girls, seasons six and seven). Keyes is savvy enough to back off on the narration after a while, but for much of the novel’s first third, the spirit is bumping into the narrative to underline things Keyes has already done a fine job of spelling out in the subtext. It doesn’t help that the final reveal of the spirit’s nature—while handily foreshadowed—feels like too easy a solution to some of the novel’s harder traumas.
But as awful as that sounds, Brightest Star is magnificently ingratiating. All the characters are drawn with an abundance of feeling, and the way Keyes slowly brings them into each other’s orbit, finally concluding in a moment when all who live in the building must come together to save a life, is borderline masterful for this sort of thing. More importantly, Keyes is mostly unafraid of the darker parts of her narrative, and she creates a real sense of emotional stakes that separates the book from every other novel about wayward single women seeking love. (Though the final fate of Keyes’ chief villain—the one broadly drawn character who doesn’t really make sense—is another corner cut too easily.)
Brightest Star tries too hard at various portions of its narrative, but its heart is inestimably in the right place. As the book draws to a close with a scene that brings all the major characters together for one last celebration (set at Christmas, no less), it takes on nothing less than the feel of a sprawling, enjoyable television series that takes a few wrong turns, then finds itself in time for a great season finale.