Reviews of The Water Star

The Water Star
The Water Star. Cover image: Alice Maher, Ankle Deep Woman (The History of Tears), 2001, charcoal and chalk on calico. Courtesy of the artist. © Alice Maher 2001.

Casey is a poet and a playwright; he has a poet’s delicate ear and a playwright’s eye for direction . The tale that unfolds in this thick, satisfying volume is not particularly complex – any more than the circumstances of any of our lives are complex, which is to say, infinitely and infinitesimally so.
Through the interweaving and the overlapping of these relationships, Casey examines how human nature is shaped by sorrow; how people will find a way – sometimes, it seems, despite themselves – to take comfort from others, to make homes where they can, even among the ruins.
Casey’s technique, too, is one of interweaving and overlapping. He will tell the same story more than once, each time from a different vantage point: Of course, it is not the “same story” that’s told, which is precisely the point. As an idea in the abstract this might seem laboured; in the novel, however, it works seamlessly, simply functioning as it is meant to and unfolding the story like a fan.
. . . The Water Star is a graceful, gentle novel that does not shy from the truth.
– Erica Wagner, The Times. Full Review

Philip Casey’s second novel, The Water Star, confronts the central Irish experience of the twentieth century: exile. It is distinguished by the finely wrought lyricism that has characterised much of his poetry. His first novel, The Fabulists (1994) won acclaim; his new one confirms that he is a writer with a gift for uncovering the tortuous impulses of his characters with a lucid and affecting eye. Set in a post-war London still recovering from the Blitz, the novel follows the overlapping lives of five characters who inhabit the ruins of North London
. . . Casey escorts his reader through the labyrinths of his character’s minds, unpicking the jumbled mosaic of mourning, desire and fear. The Water Star is a bitter-sweet testimony to the never-ending struggle between exile and assimilation.
– John Tague, Times Literary Supplement. Full Review

There is something at once tough and endearing in Casey’s predominant concerns with making his creations seem like real people, with delineating intimate human relationships – with being, essentially, emotive and compassionate.
… No one should read this book in search of lapidary sentences or shock tactics. Instead, the peculiarly quiet power of its tale should be enjoyed at the leisurely pace demanded by its length. It is perhaps a good thing to be sometimes driven to a blurbish cliché: The Water Star is, somehow, haunting.
– John Kenny, The Irish Times.
Full Review

Philip Casey has recreated a whole era of Irish life in this amazing novel.
… If you want to find out what it was like for the Irish in London in the early ’50s, read this book. It is a treat.
– Pat Byrne, The Irish World, 26 May 2000

This elegiac novel casts a gentle – but discerning – eye on the lives and loves of Irish and other exiles in a London shattered by the Blitz. Philip Casey brings the lyricism of a poet and the dramatic sense of a playwright to his tale of lost souls doing their best to glue their fragmented lives back together; his characters are vivid, subtly shaded, often tragic, but there’s no wallowing in misery here – on the contrary, a life-affirming tenacity and humour, reinforced by an elegant cyclical structure and more than a hint of mysticism, makes The Water Star a pleasure to read. The final sequence, set in Ireland, chimes a little uncomfortably with the rest, but then comfort was never going to be a top priority in a book about alienation. An intelligent, memorable, moving novel.
– Arminta Wallace, The Irish Times, Saturday April 1st, 2000

Gentle, metaphorical, totally believable.
– Bristol Evening Post

Derelict bomb sites are a refuge for the lonely, war-scarred characters who inhabit the 1950s London of Philip Casey’s impressive second novel. Elizabeth, Cockney-born and bred, invites Hugh, a semi-literate young Irish labourer who has run away from his domineering father, to share her home. They become lovers, marry, and soon after their son Charlie is born, and Hugh is reconciled with his father, who has found happiness of sorts with another unhappy Irish exile. The lives of these characters become totally absorbing as different versions of important events are related from their respective viewpoints. Casey has brought alive the dilemmas of a lost generation and made them vivid and memorable.
–The Good Book Guide

Philip Casey’s first novel, The Fabulists, was one of the most original of recent years and remarkable for his ability in writing about women. That skill is evident in his second, The Water Star, which follows the lives of an interconnected cast of characters in London during the fifties. The Water Star is a compelling series of life stories at a crucial point in modern history; it is equally compelling as an imaginative analysis of national versus private identity, of how people may transcend the bogus boundaries of their lives through small acts of honesty and kindness.
– Sharon Barnes, IMAGE

Casey’s approach to a hackneyed theme – the sadness of exile – creates original new fiction. Based in fifties London, his story mixes together displaced Irish and Europeans and concentrates on new beginnings in alien territory. This series of love-stories told from individual perspectives resonates with authentic feeling.
– Sharon Barnes, round-up of the year’s fiction, IMAGE, December 1999

The Water Star is a powerful work of fiction, at once passionate and compassionate.
– The Waterstones website review

Philip Casey is one of our most intuitive and interesting writers. …What is most impressive in this multi-layer book is that it captures both the British and German experience of the aftermath of war, as much as the mindset and experience of the migrant Irish flocking to find rebuilding work. The torched buildings of Hamburg in RAF raids are as real here as the improvised mountain slopes of Wexford that its main protagonists, Hugh and his widowed father Brendan, leave behind. Casey is excellent in slowly weaving together these diverse and conflicting strands of human life as (like the city they inhabit) they struggle to rebuild the present, while still haunted by old loyalties and ghosts from the recent past. …This is a lyrical and captivating read in which the dead are as present as those survivors rebuilding their lives and the mental scars of inexpressible wounds find expression in moments of exquisite tenderness …
– Dermot Bolger, The Sunday Independent

Written with a poet’s eye for the intensity of physical detail the narrative unfolds gradually, and time moves in loops with one event being recounted by up to five different voices’…
– Della Nock, Irish Post

The Water Star
Picador edition

… Yet there is something compulsive about the lives recounted in Casey’s flat, slow-moving prose that keeps you reading right to the end
– Alannah Hopkin, The Sunday Tribune

Casey captures the warmth and tragedies of ordinary life with exquisite detail.
– Maurice Haugh, The Evening Herald

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