Stars in the Night, by Clare Rhoden

1970 in suburban Melbourne: ‘That was how it happened, thought Harry, feeling the memories rise; they were never far away .. Trusting you to remember, trusting you to do something about it. As if you could fix things, mend the dead, put the world back the way it was.’

And so we go back into Harry’s memories, into the seared experiences that gave him nightmares for decades, back to the day in 1917 when Harry cannot find his foster brother Eddie. Harry searches. He crawls out of the Passchendaele mud in no-man’s land searching for him. He looks into dugouts and stumbles down communication trenches and he asks at Casualty Clearing Stations. Fifty years later his granddaughter comes upon an old notebook in the attic and asks him,”Who is Eddie?”

The Stars In The Night is a story of love. Nora waits for Harry but he harbours fears whether she can accept him after what he has been through. Eddie hopes for a life with Claudelle. It is a story too of love between men, brothers-in-arms, Harry and Eddie, Wallis, Hartigan, Alex. From Gallipoli to Flanders the war thunders over all of them like the endless numbing artillery barrages. But it does not end for them when the guns fall silent.

We only recently have begun to speak openly of PTSD and try to understand that it messes people up for a long time. Harry survives wounds and sickness and comes home, but in dreams he returns to no-mans’ land, still trying to rescue mates. The women have their losses too, made harder to bear by Harry’s inability to speak of things he simply does not want to bring to mind. Harry’s mother Ellen, for instance, cannot connect with him any more.

The mines and the shelling is like the end of the world. The worst we have seen, and we have seen some bad ones. Harry and me are fine but it makes you cry. There are so many dead you cant help but walk on them’. Eddies notebook.

Clare Rhoden takes us into this vast arena of events, from the debate in Australia about the rightness of the war, into terrible battles, and on through into the waves of pyschological effects upon those who survived and their families. These 220 pages hold material for a 1000 page book. But the author has brought large and complicated things down to the personal level by revealing them in the way that we all ordinarily talk to each other: through a household argument, the queries of a nosy neighbour, the grumbles of soldiers about the food and the cold, the guarded talk about Gallipoli by a sergeant to a fresh officer as they weigh each other up, and through diaries and letters home. This makes The Stars In The Night deeply personal and emotional. I got so caught up in it that I paused reading several times so as to absorb it. I cannot praise this novel highly enough both for its story and it’s technical execution.

Although it is about the experiences of Australian soldiers, this heartache and loss described in this novel could really be about the horror of any war, not just the one that millions prayed would be ‘The War To End All Wars.’ The character Harry Fletcher, like many veterans, could not bring himself to attend Anzac Day ceremonies but stayed quietly at home. Yet for anyone interested in the scars left by the Great War and thus the origin of the ‘Anzac legend’, the facts of it, and sometimes the mythology of it, this is a must-read.

Lest We Forget.

Note about ‘Anzac’ to readers unfamiliar with the term: The first units of Australians shipped out in 1915 were merged with the first New Zealanders into the Australia New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC). Their losses in Gallipoli and later in France shocked both young countries. Australia, population four million in 1914, sent 417,000 volunteers to the conflict. 62,000 died. Both Australia and New Zealand suffered casualty rates of over 55% – killed, wounded, gassed, captured, marked as ‘missing’. The term ‘ANZAC’ endures.

Personal note 2020: As I began this book, Australia was dealing with the Black Summer and the whole world was attuned to news about some sort of virus. There was tension in the air, and for the first time I think I had an inkling of what it might have felt like in late 1914 in the households across nations as they readied for conflict, not knowing what lay ahead. On the day that I thoughtfully laid down The Stars in the Night, Anzac Day services were cancelled for the first time due to the menace of Covid-19.

Where to find The Stars in the Night:


From publisher Odyssey Books , from Book Shop Org (supporting local bookshops)from BookDepository (with free shipping worldwide) and from Amazon in softcover and Kindle, Barnes and Noble in soft cover Nook, Chapters Indigo, Booktopia, and Waterstones. Or, ask your friendly local bookstore to order it in for you.

Clare Rhoden has also written a dsytopian series called The Chronicles of the Pale. See more about the series at her website here. My review of the first book, The Pale, is here.

Another novel I have reviewed here on this blog about WWI is ‘Nursing Fox‘ by Jim Ditchfield which focuses on the nurses. You can read about it here.

Acknowledgement: The graphics shown here are by courtesy of Clare Rhoden and Odyssey Books.

Mark, your reviewer here, is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

Songbird: The Griffinsong Trilogy Vol 1, by J Victoria Michael

How could she have fallen through a brick wall in Melbourne, emerged from a mirror on the other side, and finished up surrounded by mountains?’ Ch. 2 Alone

Songbird is the first in a trilogy called GriffinSong. Aeryl has gone out at night to pick up medicines at a late night chemist (drugstore). That’s all. Nothing unusual there. And she has arrived another world via a collision with brick wall. She desperately needs to rejoin her child but the mirror from which she emerged does not seem to work in reverse. But right now her immediate problem is to avoid being burned alive by the people in this strange place.

‘Aeryl tried to picture the distance between here and Irenya’s other reality. Was it as far away as the stars netted in Meias’s hair. Or a hand span through the mirror? Were there other worlds sliding across the surface of theirs?’ Ch. 3 Distractions.

The hallmark of a good series, I think, is that you finish the first book very keen to know what happens next. In this regard, Songbird is a winner. I had to know how on earth, or how on this strange world, at least, she would ever get back to her child. Fortunately for the reader, the next volumes are now available. My recommendation? Get them all and read them one after another.

‘This is a cruel twist of fate, that an infant in another world should be derived of her mother in order to transform ours.’ Ch. 5 Quandary.

Where to find Songbird and the GriffinSong trilogy.
From publisher Odyssey Books, from Book Shop Org (supporting local bookshops), from BookDepository (with free shipping ), Amazon in softcover and Kindle, Barnes and Noble in soft cover and Nook, and Waterstones, among others. Or, ask your friendly local bookstore to order it in for you.

Mark, your reviewer here, is also the guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.

The Girl Who Reads On the Metro, by Christine Feret-Fleury

‘For some time, she’d had the feeling that life was passing her by, eluding her, thousands of grains of sand running through an almost invisible crack, taking with them thousands of images, smells, colours, scratches and caresses’. Ch.10

This is a book to read about books and about readers falling within the worlds of books.

The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is so lightened on every page by prose poetry that I marvelled it did not flutter away from me down the aisles as I read it … on the train.

Each book is a portrait and it has at least two faces.’ Ch 8.

This book I wanted to pass on to another reader as soon as I had recovered a little from the sorrow of finishing it – which meant, of course, I could never again relish it for the first time. But as this copy was a library book, I decided to speak of it instead, this being my own way of acting as Passeur.

So many words. So many stories, characters, landscapes, tears, decisions, hopes and fears. But for whom?Ch.7.

A book to make me forever intrigued by the possibilities of page two hundred and forty seven. Even if the book I happen to choose to read does not even go up to page 247.

A book for people who read books. Here, it’s for you.

Where to find The Girl Who Reads On the Metro (Translated by Ros Schwartz)


From Bookshop Org (supporting local bookshops) from Book Depository(with free shipping worldwide) from Waterstones. And of course from many more.

But really, for hold in your hands this book about the love of books, why not visit your friendly local bookstore to seek it out. And while you look for it – take your time – bathe in the presence of all the other books. (For more about the joys of Book Bathing, take a look at this little post.)

The books above pictured with The Girl Who Reads On The Metro are a portion of my own Yellow Submarine. What Yellow Submarine are you talking about, you ask. The one mentioned in the book!

Mark, your reviewer here, is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears.