16 November 2009

Review: SHIP OF DREAMS by Martina Devlin ****

"April 1912 - disaster strikes Titanic, the largest steamer in the world, founders, taking with her the lives of fifteen hundred. But what of those who escape? A small group of survivors meet on one of the Titanic's lifeboats, saved from death by random chance. Drawn from different nationalities and walks of life, they have only one factor in common: all have survived a tragedy that captures the world’s imagination. This thread binds them together when they are rescued and taken to New York. Nancy Armstrong, 18 years old, pregnant and newly widowed, can she maintain her status in New York society without her husband’s connections and wealth? Bridie Ryan, penniless but determined: can the American dream come true for her? And Hannah O’Brien, also pregnant, can she build a life for herself and her American child to be? Then there is Louis Stubel, the French gentleman’s secretary with ambitions to better himself; US Cavalry officer Major Richmnd Hudson, convinced his dead wife intervened to rescue him; and English teacher Edmund Newton who was plucked from the sea by the Irish girls. From the factory floor to film premieres, from tenements to townhouses and from impoverished rural Ireland to the upper echelons of New York society; all who survive the Titanic are buoyed together, struggling to keep their dreams afloat.
They cheated death - and life would never be the same."

I have this thing for cruises and luxurious ships and I've always been fascinated by the Titanic tragedy. I was hoping someone would write a novel about it and my wishes were granted by Ms Devlin, who wrote The Ship of Dreams. She says the novel was actually inspired by her great grand-uncle Tom O'Brien, who was eloping on the Titanic with his wife-to-be Hannah. Poor Tom never made it to the US to get a fresh start, but Hannah survived. She was pregnant in April 1912 and a few months later gave birth to Tom's daughter Marion. The book features a couple of photographs of the three of them and I thought that was a really nice touch. The author herself stresses in the introduction that only these few names and facts are actually true and that the book on the whole is a factionalized account of what may have been.

One of the first scenes of the novel is actually the sinking of the Titanic and people being saved on lifeboats (you can read that chapter here). It's quite a poignant scene and it gives a good sense of what a tragedy the sinking of the Titanic really was. Everyone knows many people died with it, but this book gives names and faces both to people who passed away and those who survived and their grief.
The story focuses mostly on the six people mentioned in the summary and how they coped with their new lives in the first year after the tragedy. They found themselves in the same lifeboat and were thus linked forever and kept in touch when they started new lives; some even fell in love. I can't say the plot is very exciting, but I did enjoy reading about the Titanic as well as about the lives of people in the 1910s in New York. I can tell the author did a lot of research, which resulted in a credible story with lovely characters (my favourite one was probably Bridie, the strong independant woman).

I thought the strongest point of this novel was actually the writing, which is simply marvellous and fits the time in which the novel takes place. I really appreciate it when authors don't only tell the story, but make a real effort to do it in terms of writing and I can tell that Ms Devlin certainly accomplished that; the third person narrative flows beautifully and each character is given a unique voice, which is something that not all authors manage to do.

All in all, I'd definitely recommend this if you're fascinated by the Titanic - and who isn't? Speaking of which, I read that the author is planning "to sail the 2012 centenary commemoration voyage" (source), which would be a dream come true for me too! Fingers crossed she'll write a novel about this trip for all those of us who (most likely) won't be able to experience it for ourselves. :)

overall rating: 4/5
plot: 3/5 | writing: 5/5 | characters: 4/5 | cover: 3/5


Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I have been obsessed with Titanic stories every since I was a wee girl (way before the film). I must add this to my list. Thank you.

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