War stories, especially those about WWI, generally focus either on the horrors of the trenches, or the trials of the women left behind. There’s plenty of oral histories and first-person accounts of both, so writers and authors are spoiled for choice of insights.
To manage both in the one novel is a worthy, if potentially clumsy, premise. The historical writer must undertake years of research, yet not weigh down their prose with 'authentic' detail. Avoiding overly familiar or clichéd situations and characters is a tough gig – so much has been written of this era, especially for British and Australasian readers. Avoiding sentimentality and cloying focus on ‘sacrifice’, ‘hardship’, ‘mateship’ and other ‘ANZAC values’ is often difficult. To write across an entire era – in this case from WWI to the 1970’s – and with multiple time-jumps, is fraught and risky.
Rhoden not only succeeds in all of this, by writing with focus, care and insight, she creates a richly emotional novel woven from the deeper truths of war and love.
In part a straightforward war drama, in part family drama, I was hooked by Rhoden’s clean, effective and unpretentious prose, captured by her characters and their journeys, and genuinely affected emotionally. I’m not prone to gushes of what normal people call ‘feelings’ – I have a stony, black heart – but I confess there were several points where I…well, let’s just say hay-fever is something I experience from time to time, and several bouts coincided with reading Stars in the Night.
Rhoden also captured the trenches as well or better than any I’ve read, and I’m even prepared to compare her favourably to Pat Barker’s stunning literary masterpiece, The Regeneration Trilogy, on that score.
Stars in the Night also features one extra aspect I rate highly – it’s written neither for women or men but both. Well done, Ms Rhoden – I dips my lid, and thanks you.