It takes a real gift to tell a familiar story differently and Hazel Gaynor’s book opened my eyes to another side of the Titanic disaster. I’d not thought about how the tragedy affected the survivors in their future lives or those who waited for news of loved ones. Having been to Cobh (formerly Queenstown) in County Cork, I’d known that Titanic had stopped there but I’d not really considered what it must have been like for the Irish passengers who joined the ship at that point.
The Girl Who Came Home tells the story of Maggie Murphy and 13 other people from the village of Ballysheen in County Mayo who were travelling in steerage on Titanic on the way to a new life in America. Maggie leaves behind her boyfriend, Seamus who is unable to leave because his father is ill. Maggie herself is recently bereaved as her mother has died and she is travelling with her aunt who had emigrated to America years before. Obviously, the reader knows that Titanic will not reach New York and the series of ill omens that happen on the journey to Queenstown therefore take on great significance.
I really liked Maggie. There’s a freshness to her voice, an excitement about each new experience which is very endearing. The poverty of her life in Ireland is highlighted by her delight in the pretty basic steerage accommodation and the three meals a day provided to passengers. When the story moves to 1982 it’s great to see that Maggie has retained much of that enthusiasm and I really loved her relationship with her great-granddaughter, Grace. I did see the revelation about Maggie’s husband coming from quite early on but then I have a rather geeky interest in all things Irish and I made the link quite quickly. But, having said that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the ending and I found Maggie’s return to Ireland particularly emotional.
I have to admit that I cried a lot reading this book. Having had a pretty traumatic time myself over the past couple of years Maggie’s courage really touched me. She came from a generation that didn’t have access to counselling or therapy and her method of coping was to not talk about Titanic for decades. The sections of the book set in 1982 seemed to me to be her coming to terms with what happened.
That’s what I thought of The Girl That Came Home. I’d love to hear your opinion. If you’ve read it, did you love it as much as me? Is it a book that you’ll be adding to your TBR pile?
I’m delighted to say that Hazel Gaynor will be joining The Write Romantics Book Group for a live question and answer session on Thursday 28th August between 8 and 9pm. If you’ve got any questions for Hazel then please do pop over to Goodreads and join in the discussion here . Or you can leave a question in the comments here and we’ll make sure it’s included in the Q&A session.
I’m handing over to Rachael Thomas now who has chosen the book for the Book Group to read in September. It is The Kiss of the Concubine: A Story of Anne Boleyn by Judith Arnopp. I love a good Tudor tale so I’m looking forward to this one. You can check out the reviews of Judith’s book here and here. We’re looking forward to having Judith as our guest on the blog on Saturday 30th August.
Images of lifeboat and Titanic courtesy of the US National Archives