Review: Starling by Sarah Jane Butler

Some years ago I was on a writing course with what was then the Unthank School and one of my classmates was Sarah Jane Butler who was starting to write a book – that book has become Starling.

Starling and her mother Mar are travellers, moving around the country, living off the land, and often encountering prejudice from other people. But Mar is becoming increasingly isolated and angry, and one morning Starling finds that Mar has gone without a trace. Unable to remain in the van, Starling makes her way to friends and has to try and build a life with more conventional means – a job, four solid walls – but can she survive like this? And what has become of Mar?

This is a slow book, a book that is mindful and aware of every living thing around us. It’s a book that highlights many of the problems with the modern western way of living but doesn’t get dewy eyed about the old traveller ways either. It’s beautifully written and captures the impact of isolation on a person’s spirit very well, the mistrust that Starling feels as she adjusts to a different way of life is excellently drawn here.

I love books that have are character led and this is an excellent example of this, having the plot moved on by the people in its pages. The storyline, such as it is, is dramatic enough without being over the top and Butler has not had to shoehorn in extra drama to make up for it being character led, which I often feel is the case with some modern books. The drama that does occur is incredibly moving and involving for the reader to get really immersed in what happens, and how it will work out. In many ways it shows this country at our best, and in other ways, at our worst. We can be a welcoming nation, but often we choose not to be – to our detriment.

I’m so glad that Sarah’s been able to publish this and get it out into people’s hands, because it’s wonderful. Fairlight books have done a great job in understanding exactly what she wanted to do with the book and it’s edited sensitively, and the cover illustration is beautiful.

Starling is published by Fairlight Books and is available to buy from all good bookshops.

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