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Saturday, October 03, 2020

Fascinating Premise + Disappointing Execution = A Titanic Novel I Don't Love

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Everyone knows the story of the "unsinkable" but doomed Titanic, but have you ever considered what really caused its demise?  Was it truly just an iceberg or something decidedly more ... ominous?  

Atmospheric and eerie, Alma Katsu's newest historical novel, The Deep, explores the idea of something both sinister and supernatural haunting Titanic.  It's told (mostly) from the viewpoint of Annie Hebbley, a 22-year-old Irish woman who takes a job as a stewardess on the great ship.  The voyage is barely underway before strange things start happening all over the vessel; Annie's not the only one who thinks something otherworldly might be afoot.  She tries to concentrate on her job, but she soon becomes obsessed with the wealthy couple to whom she's been assigned.  As Titanic moves toward its inevitable fate, Annie becomes more and more distressed by everything that's going on.

Although Annie survives Titanic's sinking, she's so traumatized by the experience that she's hospitalized for mental health issues.  A few years later, when an old colleague encourages her to apply for a nursing position aboard Titanic's sister ship, Britannic—which has been repurposed as a hospital ship for injured soldiers—she's hesitant to go back to sea.  Her psychiatrist, however, thinks confronting her fears might be the healthiest thing she can do.  Once aboard, however, Annie encounters a figure from her Titanic days.  As past and present collide, she senses once again that something not quite of this world is sailing alongside Britannic.  What does the malevolent presence want?  Will Britannic and her passengers survive whatever happens next?

I'm not a believer in the supernatural, but I still find The Deep's premise fascinating.  Katsu succeeds in creating the perfect setting for a spooky novel by utilizing two doomed ships as backdrops, then infusing them with a creepy, unearthly vibe that makes the whole tale uniquely chilling.  Although the story is peopled with interesting characters, none of them are very likable.  All are flawed and some of them are revealed as unrelentingly self-centered, snobbish, and greedy.  This made it tough to really connect with any of them.  Plotwise, The Deep plods along like, well, a large ship at sea.  The action picks up toward the end, heading toward a finale I found disappointing.  While the novel is definitely interesting with a haunting tone I enjoyed, it's also sad, depressing, and executed in a way I didn't love, which stinks because I really, really wanted to adore this one.  Bummer.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other novels about Titanic, although I haven't encountered any others with a supernatural element.  You?)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, mild sexual content, and disturbing subject matter

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of The Deep from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.

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