THE STAR FACTORY by Ciaran Carson


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A whimsical, witty romp through the streets of Belfast. Carson, author of numerous books on Ireland, has contrived an imaginative series of vignettes that illuminate his native city, hangout by hangout. Chapters begin with the description of an apparently random object or place—a chesterfield sofa, in one example—and loosely tie stories, memories, and folklore around that motif (a master of English and Irish alike, Carson can spend entire pages explaining the origins and meanings of place names). The son of a postman (Carson says he felt that as an adult, he should collect stamps to honor this legacy), tha author recalls his father as a quirky and engaging character who carried on conversations while in the outhouse and corresponded with people all over the world in Esperanto, just to escape the tyranny of the English language. The book is interspersed with legends and folklore, some of which are wonderfully amusing, most of which Carson translated himself from the Irish. He also, quite naturally, manages to parlay some facts; our Titanic-crazed culture should thrill to read the chapter on the ship’s construction in the docks of Belfast. (In a footnote, he tells us his family’s personal connection to the doomed vessel: his father was born the day she sank.) While the tone of most of the book is lighthearted (as when Carson reveals to us the titles of the books he keeps in his privy), there are also more serious undertones of violence and the IRA—mentioned only occasionally and always in passing when referring to some local landmark. Violence for Carson is just one part of the Belfast landscape—not to be dwelt upon, but not to be ignored. Carson’s imaginary ’star factory,— a place —where words were melted down and like tallow cast into new molds,— is freshly realized here. Beautifully written, with deep humor and a strong evocation of a very personal Belfast.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-55970-465-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998