"[The novel’s] power lies in its vibrant and arresting imagery, resonant themes and sense of intellectual ferment. In his extraordinary ability to convey his characters’ emotions as they take in the universe’s immensity, Pipkin captures our own awe and sense of puniness as we look at the skies and the 'implacable cartwheeling of worlds slow and indifferent'." - The New York Times Book Review
"A lyrical and heavenly read. . . it is a novel to be savoured and not rushed" - The Herald
"You want characters as vivid as the people you share your pub with? This novel has them. You want a primer to the historical underpinnings of modern astronomy and the socioeconomic environment in which it flourished? It's here. A view of the late-18th-century Irish uprising as viscerally depicted as, say, Saving Private Ryan? Look no further. A tempestuous love story? Bingo. How about a glimmer of clockpunk gearcraft within the fearsome engine of story? Roger that, citizen: John Pipkin has devised a brilliant orrery of life's rich pageant, as compelling as the brightest arrangement of stars beneath the vault of heaven." - Austin Chronicle
"In The Blind Astronomer's Daughter, John Pipkin, one of our most accomplished novelists, gives us a universe of stars, comets, and planets half-perceived through crude telescopes and half-deduced through calculations. Utilizing history and imagination, Pipkin creates charactersmost memorably two complex and touching women, both called Carolinewho are formed by both their innate gifts and a world flawed by violence and injustice. He brings them all together with a force as effective and inclusive as gravity." - Sena Jeter Naslund, author of AHAB'S WIFE and THE FOUNTAIN OF ST. JAMES COURT, OR PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS AN OLD WOMAN
"The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter is a tour de force of characterization and historical narrative . . . No matter how small, the characters and the time come alive in narrative that is rich, intense and meticulously rendered that it often comes across as lyrical or philosophical." - The Historical Novel Review
For Arthur Ainsworth, the Great Comet of 1744 marked an end and a beginning: the end of his family, killed by smallpox, and the launch of a life spent scouring the heavens in search of celestial bodies to name after his loved ones, and searching for connections. Oddly enough, it is the distant stars that bring him a "family": an orphaned girl, both daughter and assistant, who carries on his work; a talented blacksmith who builds his telescope; and even his rival William Herschel, who discovered and named the planet that Ainsworth sought for his own memorializing. Pipkin's (Woodsburner) exquisitely crafted historical novel offers readers many things: a sensitive recounting of Ireland's travails as its impoverished populace struggles to feed and clothe itself, a riveting description of the passion of discovery in the late 18th century, and a brilliant examination of such age-old themes as the longing for permanence and belonging. VERDICT A pleasurable read for lovers of historical fiction and for those longing for reassurance that following one's passion does indeed lead to healing and belonging.—Cynthia Johnson, formerly with Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA
Pipkin’s panoramic second novel (Woodsburner, 2009) unfurls a vista of scientific advances and social unraveling as the 18th century nears its close.Arthur Ainsworth, a Londoner orphaned by an epidemic, inherits New Park, a manor estate in Ireland, where he's able to pursue his hobby and main passion, astronomy. Telescopes, a new invention, are rudimentary and scarce: Arthur must commission his own from one of his tenants, the local blacksmith, Owen. Soon after his wife dies in childbirth, Arthur adopts a foundling whom Owen took in and names her Caroline. Only Owen and his family, including his nephew and apprentice, Finn, know the infant is not Arthur's daughter by blood. Meanwhile, in Bath, a musician named William Herschel, who had to leave Hanover after deserting the army, and his sister, also confusingly named Caroline but known as Lina, are similarly drawn to astronomy: William, like Arthur, is intent on discovering a new planet and devising better telescopes, and Lina acts as his assistant, collaborator, and calculator, as does Caroline for Arthur. (The Herschels are real historical characters.) Now blind from gazing at the sun, Arthur is enraged to learn that William has won the race to find a new planet. Caroline, meanwhile, is smitten with Finn, whom she spies on with a telescope, and Finn loves her as well, but both are too timid to declare their feelings. After Arthur dies after falling from New Park’s roof (or did he jump?), his unscrupulous land agent destroys his will, dispossessing Caroline. Owen and his wife are also evicted and die on the road. Ignorant of one another’s fate, Caroline and Finn each flee Ireland, where rebellion against English landlords is brewing, she to London and he to Edinburgh. The novel is divided by Arthur’s death into two discrete parts, and the second half, dominated by the bloody Irish uprising of 1798, never really gels with the first. Still, a fascinating look at the particular manias and obsessions of those who study the stars amid turmoil on Earth.