Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ship of Brides


Jojo Moyes


This is an interesting historical novel about the aircraft carrier Victorious which brought 655   war brides from Sydney to Portsmouth in 1946.  These very young women of all backgrounds were forced to live together in cramped makeshift quarters on the high seas for almost six weeks.  Their only commonality was their uncertain future in a strange land, the newness of their marriages to men they hardly knew, and their homesickness for the land of their birth which most would never see again.  It was a social experiment for all involved, passengers and crew.

The narrative follows the occupants of one cabin: a society girl from Sydney, a pregnant farm girl from the outback, a war nurse who had married a patient, and a 16-year old whose husband held the ticket to a better chance for her.  Two other major characters are the captain who is struggling with psychological and physical wounds sustained in the sinking of the sister ship of Victorious near the end of the war, and one of the marines who stood guard duty over the women after curfew every evening. 

It is an interesting mix of characters and the setting is fraught with suspense for the future and raw memories of the recent past.  There are interesting passages about the survivors of the Japanese POW camps, the war in the Pacific, hospital camps and life in Australia during the war.

The story opens at a ship dismemberment yard in India where one of the brides, now a grandmother, sees the old carrier being finally scrapped.  Throughout the book, we wonder which of the four brides she will turn out to be.   The shipyard setting is surreal in itself, as anyone who has seen pictures of those workplaces will know. 
The book is interesting historically and also philosophically with its  loose theme of putting old traumas and sins behind one when the opportunity to make a new life arises.  Forgiveness and moral strength are valued qualities. 

The mood is suspenseful  as the plot develops and new details about the characters' pasts are revealed, but the characters themselves are not very complex.  The writer is a romance writer who has done some interesting research and found a story that is full of possibilities.  On the whole she has done well with it, although some of the scenes are melodramatic and much too drawn out.  The framework which focusses the story on a small representative group is engaging and clever.
The book is an easy, good, and worthwhile read. The shared experience of the voyage makes its mark on all the characters and leaves the reader more reflective and appreciative of the sacrifices and hopes that marked the end of World War II.


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