On March 1st 1933 the luxury liner, SS Etoile, sets sail from Southampton en route for New York. On board the liner is Lily Sutton – a fragile but determined woman who is seeking to escape the brutality of her failed marriage, and begin life anew in America.
During the five days at sea, Lily is caught between the world she leaves behind, with its attendant riches and position in society, and her new-found love which has given her the strength and courage to be herself. Travelling in steerage so as not to attract attention, Lily is terrified that her flight from England will be uncovered, but a new friendship makes the journey easier to bear... until an old enemy surfaces and Lily must do everything she can to protect those she loves most in the world.
I've been wanting to read this book ever since it came out in hardback last year - it just had my name written all over it, being set on a ship (called Etoile! - I love that word, it's French for 'star') and in the 1930s and everything. I patiently waited for the paperback and then when it finally arrived, I pretty much read it immediately - and gosh, what a delight to read it was!
I must admit that I wasn't overly impressed at the beginning as the story started out a bit slowly and it just kept jumping forwards and backwards, and I was starting to worry where all this was going ... However, once the stage was set and all the relationships were established, the book really picked up and I just couldn't put it down as I couldn't wait to found out what will happen to Lily - will she manage to escape her violent husband Charles and start a new life in the US with her son Nickie and her beloved, or will her enemy Lavinia ruin everything for them just out of spite? I was quite pleased with the conclusion, but then the epilogue, set in 1943, provided some additional information that I wasn't expecting so I guess the ending turned out to be rather bittersweet - sad, but optimistic.
The story itself is fascinating, but it also gets quite dark at times, what with tackling the issues of domestic violence and the effects of war on people. All the characters have also had their fair share of struggle and while I don't really fancy living their lives, I certainly admire them for overcoming their problems. Characters like Lily, Johnnie, Mrs Webb etc. were easy to sympathize with and the villains (namely Charles and Lavinia) were easy to detest, especially Charles - just reading some of the violent scenes made my blood freeze.
As much as I enjoyed the story and liked the characters, I actually thought the writing itself was the strongest point of the novel. I found the novel to be well researched and believable, but the writing was really just the cherry on top - the imagery it painted was exquisite and I absolutely adored the dialogue, which really made me feel as if I was transported back into the 1930s.
Overall, this was a magnificent historical novel, set in a fascinating period of time and with a bittersweet story at heart - it may be set mainly in the 1930s, but some of the issues it tackles are still very topical today.
plot: 4/5 | writing: 5/5 | characters: 4/5 | cover: 4/5
The publishers, Allison & Busby, have chosen this title as their Book of the Month so visit their website in order to get a ! :)