Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Distant Waves: A Novel of the Titanic" by Suzanne Weyn

Ever since Bob Ballard found the final resting place of the Titanic and I breathlessly read the details in the December 1985 issue of National Geographic, I have been fascinated by the story of this ill-fated ship. Of course the 1997 movie with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio just whetted my appetite for more. So how could I pass up this book I found at my son's Scholastic Book Fair?

Unfortunately after reading this book I find I'm kind of annoyed that it was subtitled "a novel of the Titanic." This was false advertising. Other than a few brief mentions and some foreshadowing, the entire first half of the book has nothing to do with the Titanic. In fact, the entire book is more of an exploration of spiritualism.

Not only that, but though I had expected this to be historical fiction, far too many liberties were taken for me to apply this label. My definition of historical fiction is a novel in which true historical events are seamlessly interwoven with conversations and situations that very likely could have happened. It was hard enough to swallow that the narrator came into contact with so many famous historical figures (and not just on the Titanic itself, which may have been more believable); but when Nikola Tesla sneaks onto the ship, inadvertently causes initial damage to it with his "earthquake machine" before the iceberg finished it off, then tries to save everyone through time travel . . . well, let's just say my disbelief was too heavy to be suspended by such a thin thread.

The book did have a very sweet love story (between Thad and Jane) which I found myself rooting for, and a very satisfyingly happy ending (though, in a book filled with unbelievable coincidence, this was probaby the most improbable of all), and I give props to the author for the "Author's Note: What's Real in Distant Waves" addendum. If my expectations hadn't varied widely from the reality I might have enjoyed this book more. I think the back of the book should have given more of a warning that this book is more of an alternate history than historical fiction. Now that I know the story, I understand the last sentence of the blurb which ends by saying, "at least one of [the sisters] will find herself out of time." I thought that meant she would die, but I guess this actually refers to Tesla's time machine. Ack.

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