The Comet Seekers – Helen Sedgwick (4 stars)

Sparkling debut from Scottish physicist-turned-writer

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The Comet Seekers – Helen Sedgwick

Physicist Helen Sedgwick's debut novel is framed by the appearance of comets in the sky – Halley's Comet, Comet Hale-Bopp, Comet McNaught. The arrival of each one is significant to both protagonists, Róisín studies the sky, devoted to the pursuit of scientific knowledge, while across Europe the comet means François' mother is visited by the ghosts of her family.

The novel is a beautiful balance of contrasts, of characters who work the earth and those who study the sky, of those driven to travel and those tied to home, of the wonders of both science and the supernatural. It journeys across geography (set in Ireland, France, Scotland and Antarctica) and across time, with snapshots of Francois' ancestors at key points in their lives – some bold actions of deviance, others devastating experiences of grief.

It is ambitious in scope but Sedgwick can distil a complex situation down to its essence. The imagery is bewitching, encapsulating the glory of skies and the tender emotions of loss, in a book that will make you want to look beyond yourself and into the cosmos.

Out 25 Aug, published by Harvill Secker.

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