*Warning: This is going to be about chicklit books I like and do not like, so could we all just assume that I also read challenging stuff (even though I mostly don't) so that I don't have to get defensive about you being judgmental that I don't read fucking Dostoyevsky in my spare time. Though it may be a bit late for that last bit. Ta. *
I am fond of Marian Keyes, a woman whose work is more traduced by the term chick lit than described by it, but The Brightest Star in the Sky is *cough* not her best work.
It's a bit like the film Love Actually, in as much as there are really good parts and some interesting story strands, but the whole is a sentimental, mechanistic mess. Also, I realised halfway through that one of the main plot points was a whole roaring orchestra of Do Not Want, but by then I had decided I was going to finish it. As the alternative was Conscious Thought About Work, I trudged through to the end.
The Brightest Star in the Sky is basically Marian Keyes does Ralph's Party, only not so good. Four flats in a house in Dublin are filled by disparate groups of people, from Polish immigrants to a record company publicist, to an indomitable old lady to a couple who are having severe mental health problems. Gradually, more is revealed about the nature of their lives, love lives and difficulties and we reach a (more or less) happy ending. That's the template for 80% of the genre and there's nothing wrong with that.
However, the framing device in this book is so twee, so noisome, so 'let's put it in a quirky typeface and be cute', that every time it appeared I wanted to hurl the book out of my site. Let me tell you how shite this framing device is -- I last came upon it in bad X-Files fanfiction. S7-8 fanfiction with that plot development. And it was done better there.
In short, should you ever wish to read a good novel about women and their lives, do not read The Brightest Star in the Sky, not even if it's only nine quid at WH Smiths. Buy This Charming Man, which is also by Marian Keyes, also has a serious theme but at least has the advantage of feeling slightly original and being very, very funny.
I've also read Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy in the past couple of months or so. The books are more compulsive page-turners than great literature, but they do have the advantage of being respectively, (a) good locked door mystery with horror elements (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and (b) a police procedural crossed with a conspiracy thriller (its two sequels, which are really one huge book). I don't think you learn a huge amount about Sweden from it, or get a glimpse of a different mindset as you do with Arnaldur Indriðason's books set in Reykjavik, but they are engaging.
The female characters in it are by far more interesting than the 'hero' Blomkvist, who is a kind of well-meaning cipher whose superpower is to be able to talk any woman into bed merely by being interested in her. I read a review in Prospect, which said that the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, was basically a witch in the same way that the fairies of eighteenth century fairytales became aliens in the twentieth, only because this was the 21st century, she'd become a hacker who could get into any computer.
As it happens, I have a spare copy of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. I was talking to a friend around the time of my birthday about books and mentioned that I'd really enjoyed piling through the Millennium trilogy. She hadn't heard of them so I described it a bit and recommended that she read The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. She asked what I wanted for my birthday and I just said "send any book you've really loved in the past year; I'd love to read something you enjoyed." Last week she sent me a parcel -- and lo and behold it was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. This is, at least, better than two years ago, when she got me the same album by Stereophonics (a band I don't like much) for my birthday and for Christmas. It's very kind of her to send me something but even I don't need two copies, so if anyone would like one of mine, I'd be happy to send you it along with a Christmas card.
Anyway, if you fancy some sort of card from me this year, I would be more than happy to send you one. Reciprocation is pleasant but entirely unnecessary.