The first of my blind dates was… disappointing. When a book comes to me, all bound up in brown paper with the word ‘murder’ as the only clue to its contents, and when the cover has a recommendation from Cassie Clare, whom I adore, I expect my evening to be full of surprises, with an exciting finish and plenty of fun along the way (I think my date metaphor may be going a little too far, but such is life). Murder, in general, is fascinating. As an artistic concept, firmly limited to the pages of a book, I approve of murder; of serial killers and mutilations and copycat murders and a whole host of other brutal topics, but in no way should the exploration of the darkest reaches of humanity limit the development of characters.
This is where Johnson failed. If she had only paid the same attention to detail in her characters as she did in her recreation of the Ripper murders, The Name of the Star would have been a far more enjoyable read. If Rory, the American teenager who moved to London, was flat and badly-formed, Jerome, her love interest, appeared to have no distinguishing characteristics beyond his curly hair and a singularly unsettling obsession with Jack the Ripper.
On the Ripper note (and this may simply be my own unerring belief that the things I know are known universally) how could she have no idea who Jack the Ripper was? How? My brother knows who he is (although admittedly that may be my fault) and he’s barely eleven. Jack the Ripper is a nightmare, a horror story from history, and I don’t know a single person who would not at least associate the name with death.
Johnson’s understanding of the English A-level system was also mediocre at best. Even ignoring the fact that one does not simply take further maths without taking maths as well, how can she possible believe that in an English Literature course, a class would study no less than thirteen separate authors, which includes all three of the Brontë sisters, but not Shakespeare. The idea that one would only study British authors is quite frankly stunning. I may not have enjoyed it, but I have studied Steinbeck, and have friends who are studying F Scott Fitzgerald this year. Did Johnson simply Google a list of famous British authors and copy and paste it onto the page?
For me, this blind date with a book was not simply disappointing, it was a failure in every possible way. Readable, but not enjoyable, The Name of the Star was devoid of twists, devoid of symbolism, devoid of meaning. I do not expect every book I come across to be complex, with a fractured plotline and tantalising glimpses at something more, but when a book is labelled a thriller I do anticipate an enticing mystery, clues dropped, revenge, hatred, chilling sanity. When the villain is the best character, but their decisions and motivations are murky at best, what hope is there for the rest of the book?
It was nice meeting you, The Name of the Star, but I do not expect to continue our acquaintance. Thank you for your time.