The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick
Both seeking refuge from recent sorrows, Róisín and Francois meet in the snowy white expanse of Antarctica. Raised in a tiny village in Ireland, Róisín has always looked to the stars, dreaming of the day she can leave her small home to explore the world beyond, but the constant pangs of first-love beckon her return. Meanwhile, Francois lives with his mother in France, struggling to understand her constant ramblings to a seemingly empty room as he yearns for a life of his own. From childhood games to the newfound independence of adulthood, their story slowly unfolds as their lives are entwined with the comets, until, finally, we’re brought back to their first meeting, to the ice and snow, a moment of endless possibility and the choice to write anew a destiny long written by the stars.
“Why draw a square house with a triangular roof when you can draw the patterns in the stars?”
Quiet and introspective, The Comet Seekers is surprisingly prosaic and a real treat to read. From their first meeting, Róisín and Francois recognize the other as a familiar spirit, both struggling to balance wonderlust with an overwhelmingly deep attachment to their home and family. Róisín is an astrophysicist, traveling the world one viewing station at a time, from Ireland to France to America to Antarctica, she’ll never leave a stone unturned, on this world or the next, but her first love Liam has vowed never to leave home. He longs to rebuild the family farm, to fix everything gone wrong in his childhood, all the while wishing Róisín could do the same. Though their bond is unquestionable, the fact remains that Liam and Róisín are cousins, forcing the pair into secrecy and a difficult pattern of mixed communications that only worsens over the years. After leaving for college, Róisín begins her travels abroad, but soon returns when the pangs of first-love-lost prove too much. Their relationship is awkward, to say the least. Hidden away from others, they tip-toe around each other, feigning ignorance and bleeding the connection dry. The most heartbreaking scene of all comes as Liam repairs a broken record player (deciding if he couldn’t fix them, then he would fix something else), only for her to ask, “Was it broken?”. Though a simple exchange, it speaks to the state of their relationship, showing just how easily the cracks form, and just how soon it becomes irreparable.
“When she walks across the field she opens her arms wide and imagines a world so big, so full of people, she would never tire of exploring it, her eyes fixed on the sky above until she slips on some sheep droppings, only just managing to catch her fall. Liam is always telling her the ground is just as important as the sky. “
Francois, on the other hand, is tied to his mother Severine, who he increasingly worries over as she continues talking to familial spirits. She’s always encouraged his dreams, hoping he’d travel the world in her stead, but how could he leave when she’s unwell? Though she’s always dared him to chase the world without hindrance, she never dreamed her sacrifice would effect him so deeply. From an early age, Severine was told of the family spirits, always hoping to see them for herself, but with such possibility comes great cost. Firstly, she must want to see them, second, she must experience loss, and thirdly, she may never leave their town of Bayeux. With each passing comet, a new relative appears, revealing their family’s ties to the infamous Bayeux Tapestry, the first reference in human history to Halley’s Comet, sewn in 1066. If anything, I would have asked for even MORE of the family history, especially from Brigitte, who suffered terribly in a fire, haunting the family for hundreds of years not knowing if her only child survived. As each member shares their story, it becomes clear the family is rooted by tragedy, a sadness extenuated by loss after loss. That is, until Francois. Taking matters into her own hands, Severine decides her son is not to be haunted, pushing him to take a job in Antarctica and leave the confines of France for a change.
“Things shifted while he wasn’t looking at the ground and now the world is different; everything is beautiful, and wild, and precarious, because now he knows how the sky can change.”
Much more than a romance, The Comet Seekers is an exploration of the human spirit. Róisín and Francois are drawn to each other through passion and loss alike, a grander attraction, or pull, that can only be explained by fate, written in the stars and hundreds of years in the making. Theirs is a story of a grander vision, of an impossible connection. The world is always a lot smaller than we perceive, but just how small is the question. In their story, and ours, each choice we make, each person we meet, takes us one step further, making the choice between love and freedom all the more difficult. A masterful tale of love and family, of challenge and courage, The Comet Seekers is a celebration of our capacity to love and start again, while gaining strength from the past.
Rating: 5 Stars Goodreads