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Thursday Quotables – On a Cold Dark Sea

When the officer returned to his position, the next three passengers were already aboard, and for the rest of his life, the pitiful tableau they formed was the first image that sprung to mind when he thought of the Titanic. The handsome young man in his evening dress, eyes haunted, one hand pressed protectively against his companion’s back. There was a girl hovering nervously behind them – a maid, by her cowed bearing and her black dress. And then there was a lady, swathed in a fur coat over a shimmering green gown, a vision of ruined elegance. She looked done in, her thick auburn hair cascading in a tangle over one shoulder, a dull burgundy gash blighting her check. Yet there was a nobility to her suffering. She was young, the officer realized, younger than she appeared at first. Too young to have learned that the world can inflict harsh blows on even the most charmed lives.

“Your name?” the officer asked, his manner markedly more respectful than had been toward the third-class girl.

“Mrs. Hiram Harper,” the beauty replied. The officer was surprised to hear the flat American tone; he’d assumed by the woman’s bearing that she was English.

“Charles Van Hausen,” the gentleman said.

So, not her husband, as the officer had assumed. He jotted down “and maid” after Mrs. Harper’s name, and nodded dismissively at the girl in black. Proper names were not required for servants. He directed the passengers to the first-class steward waiting to escort them further, then turned to see a young woman staring at him with disconcerting directness. Quite lovely, he couldn’t’ help but note, though her disheveled hair and white-cold skin gave her and eerie wildness that distracted somewhat from her beauty. She couldn’t’ be past her early twenties.

The officer asked her name, yet she kept staring, as if the question were beyond comprehension.  She didn’t look like a foreigner; she was quite respectably dressed, though most likely second class rather than first.

The officer repeated the question. This time, he saw her struggle to respond. It must have been the shock. It left some people quite unable to speak.

“Charlotte Evers,” she managed at last. Her voice was more refined than her clothes. British, well bred. “Mrs. Reginald Evers.”

Then, to the officer’s astonishment, the woman began to cry.

Thursday Quotables Meme

Author Elizabeth Blackwell often says that before she started this novel, she spent quite some time wondering whether the world really needed another Titanic novel. Well, if the story is this, I’d say: definitely yes!

In its essence, On a Cold Dark Sea is a simple enough story. And it is indeed about the Titanic. It isn’t a story just set on the liner or a plot involved with the events of the sinking. That faithful night and what happened on Lifeboat 21 casts its shadow on the entire book and the lives of the characters. Facing those events finally unlock all the characters’ personalities.

What I find particularly fascinating is the structure of the story, which is what creates the meaning of the story. The basic idea is that what happened on Lifeboat 21 (and it is nothing spectacular in terms of storytelling) interrupts the course of the lives of all the people on that boat and pushes them in a different, unexpected direction, but also creates secrets that are buried with the memories of that night.
Instead of following the events in a linear way, the plot twists and turns around them, going up and down the timeline. This creates mystery but also meaning, because events are connected not by the neutral link of time, but by that of relations and causes and effects.
I really really liked it.

We follow the three main characters – Esme, an American wealthy woman; Charlotte, a British journalist who used to be a swindler; and Anna, a Swedish immigrant – basically from their childhood and it’s very easy to become attached to them as we see their expectations bloom up to the night of the sinking. They illustrate the diversity of the people who historically were on the Titanic and give the story a sense of universality. But they are also their own characters and we care about them and what happens to them.
I found Charlotte the most relatable, and maybe it’s also the author’s favourite. It’s true that an equal time is devote to all three women, but the story does start and end with Charlotte who’s also the one that gets the change in motion in the middle of the novel. She’s unconventional and spunky, truly a fantastic character.

A good read.

In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies

ON A COLD DARK SEA (Elizabeth Blackwell) On a Cold Dark Sea by Elizabeth Blackwell is a story about the Titanic, but also about second chances and the courage to sieze them
ON A COLD DARK SEA (Elisabeth Blackwell) - The tragedy of the Titanic touched so many lives. But especially who was on that liner that night didn't ever was the same again (book review)


  • Roland R Clarke
    Posted June 15, 2018 at 01:01

    This sounds like another must read to add to my list of tempting historicals – thanks, Sarah.

    • Post Author
      Posted June 15, 2018 at 09:07

      It is indeed a great read. And a great historical novel, which spans some 20 years. I really enjoyed ‘seeing’ that time.

  • Margot Kinberg
    Posted June 15, 2018 at 01:10

    It does sound like a good read, Sarah. And it shows how much one incident – one event – can change everything.

    • Post Author
      Posted June 15, 2018 at 09:08

      I realised this message only at the end of the book. But it was there all the time.
      It’s one of those book which are almost a puzzle. The kind I prefer 😉

  • Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Posted June 15, 2018 at 18:33

    Hi Sarah – definitely sounds an interesting read … I always remember a plaque in our school church listing lives lost on the Titanic – I guess almost the first historical notation registering in my mind – stuck with me to this day … I really should pick this up to read. Cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted June 23, 2018 at 10:10

      It is indeed a very enjoyable book,, I’d recommende it to any historical fiction readers.
      Don’t you find it intriguing how some historical events live vividly in our collective mind even so many decades (sometimes centuries) later?

    Posted June 16, 2018 at 12:55

    Perhaps the world does not ‘need’ another Titanic novel, or any other novels, for that matter. There was a time before novels, only about two hundred years ago, and may be a time after them, but we certainly DESIRE novels, and other types of stories. This one sounds interesting.

    I set my own WIP largely on a huge ocean liner too, which hits an iceberg like the Titanic did, but survives that and other disasters until it gets torn in half!

    Thanks to Elizabeth Blackwell and Sarah for this.

    • Post Author
      Posted June 23, 2018 at 10:13

      I think the truth is that we human need stories. I went to a conference once. It was inside a fantasy event. The speaker was Valerio Massimo Manfredi, one of the most popular authors here in Italy. Strictly speaking, he doesn’t write fantasy. But he does write historical fiction and is an archeologist by trade.
      His explenation of how fantasy stories might have been born and why was just fascinating. Such I shame I couldn’t listen to him to the end.

      John I have to tell you. Ocean liners stories seem to be popular at the moment.
      Just saying 😉

    Posted June 23, 2018 at 20:00

    I’m pleased to hear that, Sarah, and not surprised. Liners make great story settings as they are fascinating places that go to fascinating places! And they were the largest and most complex machines yet made in the 1920s and 1930s.

    And yes, we both need and live stories!

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