Stargazer by Laurie Petrou

Stargazer is a novel about obsession, envy, and friendship, as two girls are drawn closely together only to find that things might not be so perfect between them. Diana has always lived next door to famous fashion designer Marianne Taylor and her family, including her daughter Aurelle, but Diana has stayed away, hiding from her bully older brother. When finally Diana and Aurelle get to know each other, they quickly become close friends, and in the summer of 1995, they set off to the same college, a small place for art and athletics in the woods. There, they’re known by their bond and for their liking for drug-fuelled adventures, but as Diana’s artistic prowess becomes well-known, a wedge starts to be driven between them.

This is a classic set-up for a book, with a close friendship between two girls finding themselves, built not only on each other’s company but also on envy and a desire for something else. Early on, it is clear that Diana and Aurelle want elements of each other’s life, and the book explores the issues of this being the basis for a friendship, with an underlying toxic resentment that the characters don’t discuss. The book doesn’t have a huge amount of plot and the pace for much of the book is quite slow. I spent quite a lot of the book trying to guess when something actually dramatic was going to happen, picking up clues from the vibe and genre that it was likely to, but I did like the ending, which is quite quick in comparison to the rest of the book but leaves you with a sense that the unnerving underlying elements have come out.

The comparison between The Secret History in the blurb will draw people in (it’s why I wanted to read it), and at the end of the book that author gives thanks to Tartt’s book, making it clear this one was very much inspired by it. In fact, Stargazer felt to me like The Secret History crossed with The Talented Mr Ripley, particularly as the two protagonists used each other’s name occasionally (and with other elements that it would be spoilers to go into). A key difference between these other books, especially The Secret History, and Stargazer is that the latter is told using third person narration to see both of their perspectives (and, infrequently, a couple of other characters’ perspectives) so you don’t get as much of an unreliable narrator-created sense of the situation. Stargazer also focuses a lot more on the backstory and build-up to more dramatic events, rather than the aftermath.

The world of the book is dreamlike, echoing the amount of drugs that the characters take, and highly privileged, with another notable element of the book as opposed to others in the same kind of sub-genre being that both protagonists are rich and, despite what they respectively might think, belong in the same world. This means it tells a different kind of story to one about envy or obsession from a place of lesser power or position: rather, Stargazer explores not seeing what you’ve got and building versions of reality that suit what you see. It also looks at ideas of art and what can or should be used in art, which is an interesting thread, though feels less important in the book than the interpersonal relationships.

Stargazer is an enjoyable read that uses a “dark academia” type vibe to explore, as quite a look of books have recently, the darker sides of female friendship and how such bonds can be toxic. It does feel quite predictable, a homage to The Secret History that doesn’t have similar narration or plot twists (but does have a 90s setting), and there’s more it could’ve explored, but fans of the atmosphere will probably like it.