The Captain’s Daughter (Simon & Schuster, $A30) is an epic story of survivors from the Titanic. For May Smith, travelling with her husband and baby girl Ellen, stepping foot on the Titanic marks the start of an incredible journey, one which is destined to take her from the back streets of Bolton to the land of opportunity: the United States. But when the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic hits an iceberg one cold dark night, May’s dreams are instantly shattered. Jumping from the sinking ship at the last minute, May loses sight of Joe and Ellen. Distraught, she is pulled into a lifeboat. Minutes later, the real-life Captain Smith swims to the lifeboat and hands May a baby swaddled in blankets.
Beside herself, and in virtual darkness, May believes the baby to be Ellen. This rescue is witnessed by fellow survivor, Celeste Parkes, married to an American industrialist who is on her way back to Ohio after her mother’s funeral. In horror, they both watch the death throes of the mighty ship; May traumatised, knowing her husband has drowned, Celeste wishing her bully of a husband had been on board and out of her life. As the dawn comes up, and the two women are rescued by the Carpathia, a friendship is formed, one which is destined to transcend the Atlantic and social differences between them and last a lifetime. Then May makes a shocking discovery and a split-second decision which will change the lives of so many.
This is British writer Leah Fleming’s first novel. With its epic sweep, spanning three generations from the avenues of New York to Lichfield’s cobbled streets via Tuscany, it could be destined for a movie. However the pace is plodding at times, with Fleming’s efforts to explain every detail, and the dialogue is stilted and generic. It’s hard to get a sense of a character’s voice, and few of the characters resonated with any depth. I felt she was labouring to explain their emotions. Sometimes explaining less and a more prudent choice of words achieves more. Despite the very pedestrian narrative, I persevered because the plot is a ripper.
With all things Titanic grabbing attention due to the 100th anniversary of its sinking, The Captain’s Daughter is sure to appeal.
If you liked this post, read about the Halifax restaurant that is haunted by ghosts from the Titanic here.