The Girl Who Came Home, A Novel of the Titanic

Image of The Girl Who Came Home: A Novel of the Titanic (P.S.)
Release Date: 
April 20, 2014
William Morrow
Reviewed by: 

“This is a story that is rich in human drama, with a tinge of predictability; however, the clever use of parallels will intrigue the reader long after finishing the novel.”

The Girl Who Came Home follows on the centenary remembrance of the Titanic in 2012. Is the world ready for yet another account of this tragedy? With this novel, the answer is a resounding yes.

We all know about the giant supership and its fate. Hazel Gaynor’s novel is a beautiful story about a very small segment of the ship’s passengers. They are known as “the Addergoole Fourteen” from County Mayo in Ireland, who represent the largest proportional loss of life from any region. Only three of them survived.

Circumstances leading up to their departure were varied. Some emigrated for economic reasons, others to join family already settled in America. After the death of her mother in Ireland, Maggie Murphy left her dear friend Seamus in Ireland when her imperious Aunt Katherine, a coordinator of émigrés, insisted that she join her to live in Chicago.

Gaynor provides rich details of the ship and the passengers, all the while preparing the reader for what they already know will follow—the tragic fate of the Titanic. Most readers are probably not aware, however, of the 14 passengers from County Mayo. While based on fact, the characters are fictionalized.

There is information about the bigness and boldness of the Titanic, but only enough for background.

“She’s bloody unbelievable, all right. Bloody unbelievable.”. . .“D’you know, some fella told me that you can drive a whole locomotive through one of those funnels and a double-decker tramcar through each of the boilers—and there’s twenty-nine of ’em. Imagine that!”

Likewise, we encounter the arrogance of the ship’s captain driving the crew to pour on the coal and get the Titanic into New York a day early—a tribute to its speed and agility in the icy—and iceberg infested—waters of the Atlantic.

The actual crisis is portrayed, but only to provide continuity to the story and to set the stage for what comes afterward. Nevertheless, there is power in the details of the fateful night when the ship collides with an iceberg. Later, the author alludes to the manner in which survivors conducted their lives without getting into post-traumatic psychology too deeply.

Juxtaposed with this story is the contemporary and parallel tale of Grace Butler, who is attending college until her life is altered by her father’s death. She returns home to attend to family matters and loses direction in the process.

Grace’s great grandmother Maggie Murphy is a friend and companion who has never disclosed a word about her survival on the Titanic. In fact, an unwritten rule within the family had been to respect Maggie’s silence on the whole issue. But   on August 15, 1982, her psychological flood gates opened.

The author leads the reader back and forth between 1912 and 1982, keeping both segments well integrated. She brings to life the bonds that connect us on a human level as illustrated by the family ties between residents of Ireland and America.

There is an intriguing connection between Maggie and Grace. Maggie’s disclosure of details relating to her survival actually precipitates a turning point in the lives of both. There is a romantic tinge in the love story between Maggie and her beau in Ireland—and a parallel story in Grace’s life. There is another in Maggie’s finding direction as Grace does the same.

According to the author, relatively little is documented about family members who waited either in Ireland or on the docks in New York after the ship sank. This was 1912, when, aside from Marconigrams, letters were the major form of communication. Gaynor succeeds in portraying this difficult reality.

In the author’s intriguing manner, letters play an integral role in the story. It is ironic that this book was released at the time of a contemporary disaster—the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370—when once again, family members wait clinging to hope.

This is a story that is rich in human drama, with a tinge of predictability; however, the clever use of parallels will intrigue the reader long after finishing the novel.