I adored astronomy when I was a kid. I grew up in a small town, far from any large cities, and so all we had to do to see thousands of stars, or the planets, or comets, was to go out in the backyard and look up. We owned a small telescope- nothing fancy, but it was enough that I could see the rings of Saturn with my own eyes. I read every book about space that the local library had, whether it was for children or adults, watched documentaries about space, and watched the news reports about Voyager II as it traveled to the outer planets and beyond.
So I had heard of Caroline Herschel and of her contributions to astronomy, but she was always overshadowed by her brother, William, who discovered the planet Uranus among other heavenly bodies. Like too many women of note, her story is largely overlooked, but is beautifully re-imagined in Carrie Brown’s new novel, The Stargazer’s Sister.
The body of the narrative follows Caroline as she grows up in Hanover, a little girl suffering from her mother’s anger and a string of illnesses, and always in the shadow of her older brother, William, who is the only one who has bothered to care for Caroline, or Lina for short, and teaches her to read and to wonder at the stars. In time, he returns from his new home to take her back to England so she might further her education and manage his household while he seeks to build bigger and better telescopes to understand more of the universe. As the years pass, Caroline grows more and more invested in William’s work until it becomes her own.
This is a quiet book- no dramatic happenings, no loud fights or betrayals or affairs. But I was enthralled from the first page and would have read it in one sitting if I could have.