By: Hazel Gaynor
Published By: William Morrow
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
Page Count: 384
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction
The Titanic disaster has long been an area of fascination for me. I was only three year old when the wreckage was found, but once I got a little older I watched all the documentaries and read everything I could find. Middle school brought along the chance to study the tragedy in more depth for a project. I was hooked and wanted to learn all I could about the "unsinkable" ship, the lack of safety preparation, and the lives of the souls on board. As an adult, I still enjoy learning more about the human side of the disaster. When the publisher approached me about participating in this blog tour, I jumped at the chance simply because it was a historical fiction that focused on the Titanic. I am so glad that I spent time with this novel. Maggie's story is one that will remain etched on my memory for some time.
I loved that The Girl Who Came Home focused on characters in the third class. These people were not the wealthy socialites and business tycoons that dominated the first class. Many of the passengers in steerage were immigrating to the United States with the hopes of beginning a better life than the one they left behind in Europe. There were strict social classes during the early 1900's and the attitude of the elite to the yeoman classes was often upsetting. So many Titanic stories focus on those with wealth and privilege. It was nice to hear about the event from a different angle. I was also intrigued to learn that the story is based in part on a true story. The authenticity of the events and characters makes this novel compelling and heartfelt.
In addition to the subject matter, I also enjoyed the format of the novel. The timeline shifts from 1912 to the 1980's. This allows the reader to learn about Maggie's story in the past and present gradually. I liked that it wasn't told in a linear fashion; it allowed some mystery to linger until the final chapters. In addition to the time shifts, I also enjoyed seeing the telegrams, letters, and diary entries. I applaud Hazel Gaynor for choosing to make this a complex narrative that beautifully commemorates the lives of the Irish immigrants. I was entranced by this novel.
Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable, bittersweet story about the struggle to begin anew in the face of tragedy and the power of love. The human spirit is resilient; Maggie's story reminds me of that. I also walked away from this one thinking about the comments made by so many concerning life. It truly is precious and moments should not be wasted. I highly recommend this one to fans of historical fiction, complex narratives, and those interested in learning more about the tragic fate of the Titanic.
One Last Gripe: I wish that I had gotten more of a sense of closure about the people from Ballysheen who did not survive the sinking. I felt by not knowing exactly how they met their end that things were left unresolved. This is realistic as many people never learned exactly what happened to their loved ones on that chilly April night in the Northern Atlantic.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved hearing from a voice that would have been largely unheard during the time period of the story. Maggie is not only young and female, but she came from a lower social class.
First Sentence: Maggie Murphy stood alone and unnoticed on the doorstep of the thatched stone cottage that three generations of her family called home.
Favorite Character: Maggie
Least Favorite Character: Bruce Ismay - although he never truly makes an appearance, he is only mentioned
Inspired by true events surrounding a group of Irish emigrants who sailed on the maiden voyage of R.M.S Titanic, The Girl Who Came Home is a story of enduring love and forgiveness, spanning seventy years. It is also the story of the world’s most famous ship, whose tragic legacy continues to captivate our hearts and imaginations one hundred years after she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean with such a devastating loss of life.
In a rural Irish village in April 1912, seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy is anxious about the trip to America. While the thirteen others she will travel with from her Parish anticipate a life of prosperity and opportunity - including her strict Aunt Kathleen who will be her chaperon for the journey - Maggie is distraught to be leaving Séamus, the man she loves with all her heart. As the carts rumble out of the village, she clutches a packet of love letters in her coat pocket and hopes that Séamus will be able to join her in America soon.
In Southampton, England, Harry Walsh boards Titanic as a Third Class Steward, excited to be working on this magnificent ship. After the final embarkation stop in Ireland, Titanic steams across the Atlantic Ocean. Harry befriends Maggie and her friends from the Irish group; their spirits are high and life on board is much grander than any of them could have ever imagined. Being friendly with Harold Bride, one of the Marconi radio operators, Harry offers to help Maggie send a telegram home to Séamus. But on the evening of April 14th, when Titanic hits an iceberg, Maggie’s message is only partly transmitted, leaving Séamus confused by what he reads.
As the full scale of the disaster unfolds, luck and love will decide the fate of the Irish emigrants and those whose lives they have touched on board the ship. In unimaginable circumstances, Maggie survives, arriving three days later in New York on the rescue ship Carpathia. She has only the nightdress she is wearing, a small case and a borrowed coat, to her name. She doesn’t speak of Titanic again for seventy years.
In Chicago, 1982, twenty-one year old Grace Butler is stunned to learn that her Great Nana Maggie sailed on Titanic and sets out to write Maggie's story as a way to resurrect her journalism career. When it is published, Grace receives a surprising phone call, starting a chain of events which will reveal the whereabouts of Maggie’s missing love letters and the fate of those she sailed with seventy years ago. But it isn't until a final journey back to Ireland that the full extent of Titanic’s secrets are revealed and Maggie is able to finally make peace with her past.
It was a year after they’d first danced at the Brennans’ wedding that she’d finally found the courage to tell him the news she had been dreading.
“I’m goin’ to America, Séamus,” she’d said, as they sat by the fireside playing cards on a wet, dark January evening. “It’s all decided. I’m to go with Aunt Kathleen to Chicago. Peggy Madden, Katie Kenny, and the Brennans are to travel with us—and some others.” The crackle and spit from the fire had filled the silence which descended upon the young couple. Séamus hadn’t spoken. “We’re to go in the spring.”
The rain had lashed against the windows. There’d been no other sound. Even the fire had seemed to momentarily hush itself.
“We’re to sail on a new liner called Titanic. They say it’s the biggest, finest, safest ocean liner there’s ever been built,” she’d added, more to break the unbearable silence than anything. She’d felt silly then. Why had she told him this? Who cared about the ship or how big it was? That was the sort of stuff that her cousin, Pat Brogan, and Peggy Madden were interested in, not her. To Maggie, the ship they would sail on was an entirely insignificant fact amid the reality of what the departure meant for her and Séamus.
He’d maintained his silence, throwing another sod of turf onto the fire, which sent a wave of moist, earthy smoke billowing across the room.
“Would you think of coming too?” she’d added hesitantly, already knowing his answer.
He’d looked at her, this young man she adored with the uncomplicated certainty of youth, his cheeks rosy from the warmth of the flames. “Ah, Maggie, you know I can’t. Not with Da so sick an’ all. Anyway, we haven’t a shillin’ to our name. I could never be affording one of those boat tickets, never mind two, even if he was well enough.”
They’d talked before about the prospect of emigrating, it being a common occurrence in the parish. Séamus had a brother in Philadelphia, who sent home as much money as he could afford, but with his mam dead and his da too ill to travel, Séamus knew that a trip to America would not be his for the making anytime soon. Maggie’s fate, however, lay entirely in the hands of Aunt Kathleen, who had first made the trip to America herself twenty years ago and was completely enamored with the place. She’d written often to her niece about the possibility of joining her in Chicago, about how America offered much better prospects for young women than Ireland ever could, but one thing or another had always prevented it from happening. However, this time was different. With nobody to care for Maggie in Ireland, Aunt Kathleen had made up her mind: her niece would go back to Chicago with her in the spring. And no matter how much this arrangement might break Maggie’s heart, there was no changing Kathleen Dolan’s mind once it was made up.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hazel Gaynor is an exciting new voice in historical fiction. Her writing has been featured in the Sunday Times Magazine and Irish Times, and she was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers. Originally from North Yorkshire, England, Hazel now lives in Ireland with her husband, and two young children. For more information, please visit her on the web at http://www.hazelgaynor.com