April is always the month of the Titanic to me, having had a lifelong fascination with the tragic sinking. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the event but interest in everything to do with the Titanic continues on in the world. I thought I’d mention a few of the new and new-to-me books I’ve read on the subject recently.
The Second Mrs. Astor: A Heartbreaking Historical Novel of the Titanic by New York Times Best Selling author Shana Abe certainly lived up to its title and was extremely well done. The author did copious amounts of research, which I always applaud, and I found myself immediately immersed in the era. Although the events of the Titanic occurred in 1912, which was after the official ‘Gilded Era’ ended, much remained the same in the upper echelons of New York high society where the incredibly rich John Jacob Astor moved. I found myself wanting to go watch the TV series about that era after reading the book. Although obviously I’d always known the sad story of the tycoon and his 30 years younger, teenage (really) pregnant second wife – she survived, he did not – the couple had never really interested me much. Ms. Abe’s book changed that. The author did an excellent job in making the newlyweds seem ‘real’ to me (and their poor dog too) and her depiction of the actual Titanic sinking and the aftermath for the widow was riveting and had much to ponder. Margaret Brown, the famously unsinkable Molly, also appears in the novel as she was actually a close friend. (She was never called Molly in real life and evidently didn’t appreciate the unsinkable title.) The book ends when Mrs. Astor’s baby is quite young, so I was inspired to find out what the rest of her life was like.
I moved on to Shadow of the Titanic, Extraordinary Stories of Those Who Survived by Andrew Wilson. The book was published in 2012 but somehow I’d never run across it before. The author laid out the rest of the widow’s life and it was quite sad. She made a lot of poor choices and life decisions. In fact, a number of the survivors profiled here had quite sad lives. Two things come to mind for me – surviving something so huge as the Titanic’s sinking would be a massive thing to deal with psychologically and especially in an era before modern tools and methods of psychology existed, much less understanding of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The second point is that these dramatic, sad lives were probably more interesting to include in the book than the tales of those who actually did okay. To be fair to the author, he did include a few stories of those who did fine for the rest of their lives.
I had mixed emotions on this book. The author seemed to want to include every single fact he found on some survivors, which made for unpleasant reading in a few cases. He also committed the ‘sin’ in my opinion of a nonfiction book, by telling the reader what certain people were thinking when he could not possibly know those thoughts. There was at least one instance where the author provided what he imagined to be the thoughts of a person about to commit suicide. Really?
On the other hand, the author did supply details even a Titanic-obsessed person like myself didn’t know before. He also gave interesting insights into the 1950’s movies made about Titanic, which I enjoyed. And who knew there was a feud between the last two survivors before they passed away as two extremely elderly ladies! One had only been a baby at the time of the sinking so actually had no memories of the event and the other was an older child in 1912 with her own memories to share.
In the past few years there have been a number of other novels published, using the Titanic sinking as background. Luck of the Titanic by NYT Best Selling author Stacey Lee explores the issues surrounding Asians and other POC in society at the time and on the Titanic in particular, as her main characters are a pair of Chinese acrobats. The brother and sister were seeking a better life in the United States, as so many hopefuls on the ship were doing, and of course it all ended in the icy waters of the Atlantic.
The Breath Between Waves by Charlotte Anne Hamilton featured a young woman forced to travel to New York with her parents, leaving behind everything she cares about in Scotland. During the voyage she falls in love with the woman sharing her cabin and they have many adventures doing daring things aboard the ship. The events of the sinking serve as a catalyst to help Penelope, the heroine, understand what’s important in life and how she wants to live going forward. I enjoyed the book quite a bit.
Depths of Time by Lori Fayre is a well-researched time travel romance, involving a Titanic-obsessed marine archaeologist whose great grandmother had been a survivor of the sinking. Through an “anomaly” (oh those convenient happenings in scifi time travel!) he arrives on the ship a few days before the sinking, meets his ancestor and also falls in love with Quinton, a First Class passenger destined to die. Our hero tries to prevent the sinking. Regular readers of science fiction will know how that effort turns out – no surprise, the ship still meets its appointed fate. But what about Quinton? No spoilers from me but as one reviewer put it, “love conquers time in this book”. The book does make a reader ponder what they would do if they were suddenly plunked down on the deck of the Titanic a few days before the ship sank.
And of course I’ve written my own take on the Titanic sinking with Wreck of the Nebula Dream, set in the far future aboard an interstellar luxury cruise ship on its maiden voyage. There aren’t enough lifeboats, the ship is going too fast through dangerous territory…and a small group of passengers makes a desperate attempt to survive and escape. Note it is a romance, so there’s a Happy Ever After ending, but getting there includes a lot of action and adventure.
Wishing you many hours of happy reading, whichever books you choose to delve into!