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Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick


The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick requires some knowledge of the Bayeux Tapestry. It chronicles events of 1066 when William the Conqueror invaded England and something about Halley’s Comet. Two women, Severine and Róisín, dominate the action of this heady novel. Ghosts haunt the former while the latter is searching the past by studying comets to better understand the present. The trajectory of comets is an interesting metaphor of human life, while ghosts are fascinating specters that also influence humans. In both women’s lives the past is crucial. Both understand that death precedes life. “But under all that, there is a part of her that knows we are too small to matter. Nothing happened, that’s the thing. The universe carried on, the comets kept coming – it made no difference. A life and a death made no difference. Perhaps that’s why she is frozen.”
Severine is frozen in her home of Bayeux, because that is where the ghosts are, her family ghosts. Her son, Françoise, has tried to get her out, but she refuses to leave. Róisín is frozen in her studies as she chases comets all the way to Antarctica. She is exploring the past to understand life now and perhaps project into the future. Severine will become a ghost and follow that unfulfilled life just as Róisín will be like a comet, a frozen mass of rock and ice on an unknown course, and get caught in the gravity of a planet or the sun and burn out or follow a predictable path. In either case “the universe will carry on.”
The trick is to face our ghosts, confront them, engage with them, and then to move on, like the comets that follow a path rather than break up and collide with plants and stars. We all have our ghosts; it is how we deal with them. “There will be tests, they tell her. Physical, psychological, survival. There is something appealing in that. She would like to be told that she can survive.”

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