I'm of two minds on this beautifully written piece of historical fiction. On the one hand, it's powerfully affecting portrait of pioneering astronomer Caroline Herschel. Brown writes in the present tense, so Lina's life feels less like a story than a collection of beautifully observed moments, often with great emotional power.The science itself is thrilling, which is rare in historical fiction. I enjoyed most of the book immensely and sobbed heavily toward the end.
On the other, while reading I had several moments where I found it hard to believe the real Lina Herschel spent quite so much time feeling sorry for herself because she was single. If she did, I doubt she did in such 21st century ways. The late 18th century saw a boom in single women like Lina, who faced social prejudice but had unprecedented freedoms, as they weren't legally the property of their husbands. But Brown's Lina only ever thinks of singleness like a Cosmo article, in terms of the sex and love she must be missing, and her moping often undercuts her very real accomplishments.
The afterword reveals that Brown invented Lina's two love interests and close male friend--her most important relationships beside her brother--all of whom exist to emphasize Lina's unhappy single state or solve it. I understand authors have to fictionalize, but that's a lot of invention! It started to feel like an active bias, especially since the fictional Lina had no adult female friends or even servants. The afterword also includes quotes from the real Caroline Herschel that suggest she was spunkier and more sarcastic than the self-pitying version we meet here.
In the end, the author's obsession with Lina's love life undercut my reading enjoyment, though it did make me more curious about the real Caroline Herschel
A well-written novel about Caroline and William Herschel, two pioneering astronomers in 18th-century Britain, but if you really want to learn about their lives and achievements you are better of reading "The Age of Wonder" by Richard Holmes.
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