The Titanic disaster has spawned a number of books, and this is one of them. But the difference is it takes that historic event, following a handful of characters snagged by the tragedy to see what happens next in their lives.
For May Smith stepping aboard the Titanic marks the start of an incredible journey, destined to take her, along with her husband Joe and baby Ellen, from the back streets of Bolton to the land of opportunity: America. But when the unsinkable Titanic hits an iceberg, May’s dreams are shattered. Jumping from the sinking ship, May loses her grip on Joe’s hand. Distraught, she is pulled into a lifeboat and under the wing of first-class passenger Celeste Parkes. Minutes later, Captain Smith himself swims to the lifeboat and hands May her baby. Celeste does everything she can to keep the pair safe whilst in horror they watch the death throes of the mighty ship. As dawn arrives and the two women are rescued, a friendship is forged, one which is destined to transcend their social differences to last a lifetime.
This is a fascinating take on the most famous shipwreck in history. From that fateful night in 1912, we follow Celeste and May after their lives are changed forever by what happened to them. May, as a poor widow with a tiny daughter to care for, faces an uncertain future, while Celeste’s future is all too plainly laid out in front of her as she returns to a bullying husband. But against all the odds, these two women maintain their friendship and end up each helping the other during various crises during their lives.
However, there are other characters whose lives have been touched and altered by the loss of the Titanic without their even knowing it – and this book also charts their lives. Fleming’s characterisation is strong and her writing vivid and uncluttered. Historic novels need to depict a sense of the period without holding up the narrative pace. Fleming succeeds in doing this, while making the necessary jumps across her long narrative timeline without jarring or defusing the immediacy of her characters – which is far harder to pull off than she makes it look.
As she takes us down the years following the sinking of the Titanic, we are given a ringside seat through both World Wars, witnessing the subsequent tragic loss of life, while relationships are forged and broken. The events and the way they impact on the lives of Celeste, May and those close to them are entirely believable. I was pulled into the book, reading far later than I should have to discover what befalls the main characters.
I love Fleming’s perspective – she could have written something cosier and far less thought-provoking. As it is, this is an enjoyable and worthwhile read and if you have any weakness at all for historical novels, then track down this offering. It is so much more than yet another rehash of the sinking of a famous ship.