Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill

The cover of this first novel by Amy Brill enticed me to read it. It is a fictionalized account of the life of America's first professional female astronomer, Maria Mitchell who lived from 1818-1889. The book sounded like it might be an interesting one about someone I had never read.

Amy Brill has based her novel on Miss Mitchell but has changed her main character's name to Hannah Gardner Price. I wondered why. The cover had said Hannah was patterned after Miss Mitchell. After reading about fifty pages, I looked at the author's notes at the end of the book. There I read that the author had not only changed the name of the intrepid astronomer from Nantucket, she had changed and adjusted quite a few other things. Some characters in the story are based on real people. Others are purely made up. Well, in fiction, I thought that's OK. But, Ms. Brill has added a significant friendship/love interest which never occurred in Mitchell's life, a twin brother, who also did not exist, a relatively short career at the local library, which actually lasted eighteen years. Each of these added pieces of fiction play a significant role in the story. Some of these facts I learned from further background reading. Brill also changed the dates of a few things by one or two years, but predated a happening by ten!

Having learned all this, I found it hard to appreciate the rest of the book. For me, Ms. Brill has taken far more liberty than I can tolerate for an historical novel. Reading about the real astronomer's life, it seemed that there was plenty of interesting material for a novel without straying too far from reality. Miss Mitchell did indeed discover a comet, named after her, as in the story. She was also supportive of the right to vote for women, petitioned for and won equal pay as a professor at Vassar and knew quite a few notable people of her times.

It was interesting to learn a little about the history and people of Nantucket from the book. Hopefully, that is accurate. Some readers on Amazon have expressed their like of Ms. Brill's character development. Others have found them a little thin. I would probably lean to the thin opinion.

The book is scheduled to come out on April 18. Readers might enjoy the story. As such, it is probably above average, but its historical flaws and injected romance, while heart-tugging and addressing social justice, take away from the life of a real woman of substance and interest.

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