Saturday 7 April 2012

The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic

HB RRP $27.95
ISBN 978-0-7636-3703-3
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

A hundred years from the sinking of the Titanic, Allan Wolf shows us that this event is still a subject not easily exhausted. He has gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare an unusual and fascinating personal view of a tragedy that shocked the world. It is also stylistically unique. The text is fashioned on the pages to complement the context of the prose – sometimes wavy, sometimes rhyming, always unpredictable, yet perfect in style.

The personal view is presented by twenty-five voices narrating their experiences. They are the voices of the passengers that survived (and others from ones that didn’t make it) from varying class decks, and those of the staff and crew of the liner which include the ship builder, captain, stoker, baker and countless others. We view these characters and their reasons for the voyage through narratives that are sharp and clear. Interspersed with the portentous, detached and cold voice of the Iceberg - we hear their fears and longings, strengths and weaknesses.

But there are painful and confronting narratives, such as the opening one from John Snow the Undertaker, which thrusts the reader inside the difficult but courageous role he owns. ‘To ease my queasy stomach, I am lying down atop the empty coffins stacked neatly across the Mackay–Bennett’s decks…You could say my living is death. I am the Undertaker. I have come for the bodies.’ He later describes the grisly yet essential task of recovering the dead from the sea, followed by the meticulously documentation of evidence needed to ascertain the identity of each body.

The Six Watches are covered in detail up to the climactic ‘Seventh Watch That Ends the Night’ The Author’s Note addresses the Mystery Ship whose lights were seen on the night of the collision and Wolf has gone so far as to include interesting and informative Character Notes on twenty-two of the voices. There is a listing of the real-life passengers and crew mentioned in the book and their fate – lost and saved, plus a listing of the Titanic Societies. Lots of additional interesting trivia facts spice up the end of the book.

To round off this extraordinary body of research, there are copious Notes that clarify details and explain any contradictions that may have occurred between the narratives and the documented information. There is a generous bibliography that includes details of Articles, Periodicals, Government Documents, Encyclopaedia Titanica Research, Internet and Audio Files, and countless other resources. Wolf goes so far as to include a well-researched biography of the real people mentioned in the book, and what happened to them, the fate of other historical persons mentioned in the novel, a listing of which people were lost and who was saved, and a miscellany of RMS Titanic statistics.

This fantastic book for young and older readers is an asset to any collection due to its unique approach to an immortal subject.

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