12th Jul 2011
Starlings by Erinna Mettler
Starlings is Erinna Mettler‘s début novel, written whilst the author was studying for a certificate in creative writing at Sussex University. Unfortunately, it might have been slightly too ambitious for a first attempt.
Over the course of the book we meet several characters whose lives are woven together like a spider web covering the city of Brighton, including neighbours May, an elderly lady living alone, and Andy, a paedophile.
Described as a daisy-chain novel, each chapter deals with a different story, and whilst some present obvious links to previous characters, others are obscure to the point that you only realise they’re interconnected when you’re halfway through. Reading this book is far from effortless in the sense that it might almost be necessary to have a notebook to hand to keep track of who you’ve already met.
One of the main threads running through Starlings is that of Andy and the lives he has affected. Owing largely to the sheer quantity that Mettler has tried to cover, there is a distinct lack of character development and as a result, it’s difficult to ascertain how we are supposed to feel about this individual.
There is an attempt to briefly cover how he feels, and how his actions have affected several other people, but none of these had enough depth to fully immerse the reader and allow them to empathise with anyone’s plight.
Sadly, this book may leave you longing for a climax which never truly arrives. What should have acted as the devastating finale was so heavily mentioned throughout the preceding chapters that the inevitability of it completely detracted from any sense of shock which would have set Mettler’s first novel apart from the attempts of others.
Mettler obviously has talent, and is certainly not short on ideas. However, she may have succeeded in creating a stronger first attempt had she held back from shoehorning so many of them into this one book, which seems unsure if it wants to be a novel or a collection of short stories.
As is often the case with daisy-chains, if you try to make it too long or complex, it will break, and that’s exactly what happened with Starlings.
Other recommended reading: For another ‘slice of life’ novel which successfully manages to balance dealing with difficult subject matters and telling numerous stories, try the aptly named Daisy Chain: A Novel by Mary E. DeMuth.