Monday, January 27, 2014

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

Hey, remember when we used to have a blog? Whatever happened to that? It turns out that sometimes the real world interferes with Book Land and we're distracted by other when your dishwasher floods your house over the Christmas break and everything you own is put in storage and you find yourself living in Gianna's guest room. That happened. Oh, and then you catch the flu from one of the guys who moved all of your stuff and spend a week in bed with a fever. That happened. Ooh, and then the flu turns into pneumonia, and you suspect as much and go to a clinic for a chest x-ray but the doctor there says it's clear...until two days later when another doctor calls with a second opinion and the reason you can't breathe is because the pneumonia had an extra two days to fester. That happened too. For good measure, I shared my illness with Gianna because I'm kind like that, and she screamed "Shut up!" at me every time I coughed because she's kind like that too. Anyway, we are sorry for the lack of blogginess lately. It's Gianna's fault for breaking my dishwasher just so I'd move in with her. Cheap trick.
Painting of the Mary Celeste

It's time to break the radio silence in order to sing praises to Valerie Martin and her new book, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. Some history first: The Mary Celeste was a real ship that sailed from 1861-1885. She was considered cursed because three of her captains died on board. In 1872, Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife Sarah, their two year-old daughter Sophia, and a crew of seven set sail in the Atlantic. Later the ship was found abandoned in the ocean, but there was nothing wrong with the boat. The one lifeboat was missing. The crew and Briggs family were never heard from again. Spooky stuff. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, used the story of the Mary Celeste as the basis for his first story. Legends popped up about ghosts, mutinies, natural disasters, and the Bermuda Triangle.

New York Times article
 about the lost ship.
Valerie Martin takes the legend of the lost ship and builds an incredible novel around the events and time in The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. I love this book. There are layers upon layers to ponder, blending history and fiction and questioning what is real, what is truth, what is a lie? The Briggs family is at the center of the book--Captain Briggs, wife Sarah, their older son who didn't accompany his parents on the voyage, and their toddler Sophia. Also, though, there is their niece, a woman who is haunted by the ghosts of her relatives and the story of the Mary Celeste and who works as a psychic. When a young Arthur Conan Doyle hears the legend of the ghost ship while on a voyage to Africa, he writes a story based on the boat, generating huge interest in the story back in the United States. Violet Petra, the psychic and niece of the lost Briggs family, is pitted against a journalist named Phoebe Grant who wants to prove that Violet is a fraud and get to the bottom of the mysteries.
her new novel,

I admit I'm a sucker for novels about the ocean in the golden age of exploration and whaling. So much was at stake for these people who boarded ships looking for new homes, riches, adventures. The ocean could and did swallow those who ventured out, and when hundreds of miles of water separate you from land, some crazy shit can happen (cannibal rat-infested cruise ship, anyone?). Martin perfectly captures this era and layers on the spiritualism craze of the late 1800's that saw society ladies participating in seances and talking to dead relatives. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste takes these elements and the mystery around the abandoned ship and creates a web of overlapping stories, history, ghosts, great characters, and superb writing. Here is first rate, atmospheric fiction to kick off the new year.

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