Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Period Piece Challenge: A Night to Remember (and other notable Titanic novels)

So I kind of have this weakness for historical fiction.  On occasion (perhaps more often than I like to admit),  I can also be found dabbling in a bit of historical non-fiction.  It may sound a bit morbid, but toss in a dash of disaster and impending doom and you've got me hooked!  That being said, it should be no surprise that, as a young girl, I nurtured a small (and what I maintain to be healthy) obsession with the Titanic. So when the 100th anniversary of the sinking rolled around last week and my friends and family successfully talked me out of spending my savings on a ticket on one of the replica cruises, I broke out my favorite Titanic books.  There are a ton of Titanic books - fiction and non - out there; so on this week's Period Piece Challenge, I am going to cover the ones that truly deserve a fan flail (please tell me it's socially acceptable to be a fan of a historical event.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy about the disaster, I am just fascinated by it)! 

The first and probably most notable book on this short list is a serious (and seriously depressing but AMAZING) read.  Walter Lord penned A Night to Remember in 1955 after years of fascination with the story of the Titanic.  As a child, he actually sailed on the Titanic's sister ship the RMS Olympic.  His book is a meticulously researched true account of the last hours of the Titanic and those on board.  His research is based mostly upon interviews he did with survivors, making the book incredibly real.  There are no starring characters or sweeping love stories to carry the plot.  He simply lets history sweep you up and away to that frigid night.  Each "character" holds the spotlight for as long as their story is told.  The chronological nature of the book is unique and appreciated.  You live every minute within the pages.   In the end, a complete and heartbreaking picture is revealed, built upon thousands of individual details and dozens of individual stories.  This book just needs to go on the "Life's Required Reading List."  Next week I will be reviewing the 1958 movie A Night to Remember based on the book just to make sure that we are not completely blinded by Kate and Leo when speaking of Titanic films.  (A note to our reader, BelleVierge:  I cannot believe you mentioned this in comments this week!  I totally had this review planned weeks ago.)
The second book on my list is Diane Hoh's Titanic: The Long Night.  While this book doesn't hold a candle to the depth and reality of Lord's account, it is a delightful read.  It might be from the YA section of Barnes and Noble, but don't let that bother you.  And don't be put off by the, um,  similarities between Hoh's characters and the James Cameron film version - a wealthy heiress facing a forced marriage, a handsome artist studying in Paris . . . .  Coincidence, people. Coincidence!  If I have to be honest (and I may be risking a strongly worded email from Sally by admitting this) I actually prefer the love stories in this book to Jack and Rose.  I know!  I am sorry!  I just, I don't know.  I really connect with the characters in the book.  Elizabeth and Max have AMAZING chemistry.  And Katie and Patrick might be the most naively adorable couple in period piece history.  They are just all around great hero/heroine duos.   I adore the layering of the book as well.  There are multiple overlapping love stories happening on each level of the ship.  I also love how the characters are truly united in the end by the disaster.  Hoh does a fabulous job of depicting how, as the ship goes down, the line between First Class and Steerage blurs.  In the end, everyone, no matter their status, is fighting for survival.  You have NO idea who's going to survive the night.  It's somewhat akin to watching Contagion; no matter who they cast for the part, no one is safe.  Even though you know what's going to happen, the suspense is really incredible.  
The third and final book on my list is from the Dear America series.  You can admit it.  If you did a book report between the ages of 8 and 14, chances are you read one of these "diaries" and fell in love with a little piece of americana, be it life on the Oregon Trail or the Salem witch trials.  Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, RMS Titanic, 1912 by Ellen Emerson White is another one from the YA section (though it does predate the "supernatural teen romance" subsection).  It is a solidly good book no matter how old you are.  Although it is not a true account of the sinking - as Lord's is -  it feels like it's true.  After I read it the first time, I was pretty much convinced that this girl had existed and I was terribly disappointed when I discovered that the book was not in fact her diary.  My adolescent disappointment aside, Voyage is very interesting because of its unique approach to the well-told story.  Several of the other approaches that I have run into come at the story from so many angles, it is refreshing to travel inside the mind of one character and experience the disaster from one single, very personal, point of view.  You still get the entire picture, but you are much more connected to Margaret because you feel as if you have lived the voyage along with her.  P.S., Margaret is an awesome protagonist.  An orphan who is traveling as a companion to a wealthy American, she is hoping to be reunited with her brother once she reaches America so they can start a new life together.   Seriously, read this book!

Whew, that was a lot of reviewing for one post.  I apologize for the Titanic explosion.  But seriously, these books are fantastic and if you have an inkling of interest in period pieces based on actual historical events, I recommend choosing the one (or all, hint hint) that tickles your fancy and reading it.  When it comes to the Titanic, there is something for everyone; whether you prefer, fiction, non-fiction, romance, adventure, or 8th grade book report goodness.  I really can't get enough of the Titanic story.  Stay tuned for the review of A Night to Remember next week!  


  1. I totes read every Dear America diary I could get my hands on when I was younger! Then those royal diaries came out and I went *crazy*!


  2. A Night to Remember is just so good!!! The Titanic story is the first-ever Dear America book I read. I was in the sixth grade and still confused on the idea of fictional journals. I totally thought it was real. In my defense, I also read The Diary of Anne Frank that year.

    Did you ever read SOS Titanic? It was also excellent!


    But, confession: Titanic: The Long Night, totally had me sobbing my teenage, boy-band-loving, heart out! I must've read that book thousands of times, and somewhere along the way (we moved) and it got lost in translation and I forgot about it and ZOMG I MUST GO FIND A COPY NOW. Sally's going to hate me, but I sort of agree with you. ELIZABETH AND MAX 4EVS!

    And now for my final sad confession: I have never read a single copy of Dear America. I wasn't really into American History when I was younger. But those Royal Diaries. Oh man. I have ever single one up in a box in the attic. So I feel you on the being in love with historical events thing. I sort have this Cleopatra obsession (I mean, I have like every book, movie, you name it about her)... So, we can be weird history people together.

    1. YES! ELIZABETH AND MAX!!!! And I am totally up for being weird history people together. But seriously, you must read the Dear America series! All of them are SOOOOO good!