I have been thinking quite hard how to describe The Deep, my feelings and opinions on it. It was a book that I targeted for reading some time ago, so when my copy finally arrived I was delighted to see it. But I will be very honest and say that, for me, it wasn’t as satisfying a read as I had hoped.
The Deep is a ghostly tale set aboard the infamous Titanic (1912) and her sister ship the Britannic (1916), formally a pleasure vessel but now a hospital ship. Something haunted the great ship on her maiden (and only) voyage, affecting both her illustrious passengers and those of less means, something that was thought to have disappeared or been done away with when she went down. But four years later, it seems that the same presence is back, extending it’s terrifying influence to the converted luxury liner. Two survivors from the disaster that was the Titanic’s only voyage meet again on the Britannic, with the events that started those four years earlier seemingly marching towards an inevitable, tragic conclusion.
Now I am no expert in spooky tales, I haven’t consumed vast quantities of them, but this is unlike any ghost story I have ever read. For much of it it felt like a historical melodrama with a dash of occultism, a pinch of spiritual folk tales and a large helping of guilt driven madness thrown in. I went into it expecting (and probably would have preferred) a traditional haunting or ghost story. You know, things that go bump in the night kind of thing. But it wasn’t like that at all. I wanted to be gripped by a tale that made shivers go up and down my spine or the hair on my arms stand up on end. To become so involved with the scariness of it all that I would be afraid to walk down my own hallway if the lights were not on. Sadly that was absent and was not a feature of my reaction to the book.
Perhaps my expectations were too high in this sense and this is my fault, but I found myself reading the book in a detached manner, almost as if I was at a distance from it, at an arm’s length. It’s very hard to describe but it felt, or at least I felt emotionless towards it, like I had no connections to the characters or the journey they were making (figuratively not literally). For a book to be successful, and by that I mean for it to be able to affect you in such a way that it stays with you after you have closed it for the final time, you have to be invested in what is going on and in the lives portrayed within. I just wasn’t with The Deep.
And if it’s sold as a ghost story then it should be scary.
I didn’t really find any of the characters and relationships all that interesting or successful with one exception. Much of the drama in the 1912 chapters take place within the world of the rich and socially superior, focussing on several wealthy socialites, Madeleine Astor and Caroline Fletcher, neither of whom were all that likeable and quite frankly came across as hysterical and annoying. I guess some will argue that this state of affairs was the result of the malevolent influence of the supernatural but to me they just seemed silly. I wanted to see more intelligence and bravery but alas it wasn’t evident.
Perhaps the only character that I liked and felt sympathy for in the whole story was David ‘Dai’ Bowen, a boxer travelling onboard the Titanic with his friend, fellow boxer and as it turns out the love of his life, Les Williams. Dai actually seemed like a nice guy with a solid heart and a sense of goodness (even if he took part in Les’s confidence schemes). Dai was loyal and devoted. And without a shadow of a doubt, he seemed to me to have the only ‘true’ romantic relationship within the book. His love felt real. And being gay at that time would have meant a life pretending to be something that he wasn’t and essentially living a lie. But other than him, well, it sounds harsh but I cared little for the others. Even Annie, the stewardess/nurse who appears in both timelines, failed to connect. I know she was deeply affected by an event from her past (pre 1916 and 1912) that seemed to drive her towards madness but I just couldn’t grasp her or sympathise with her pain and grief. God I sound like an awful cold woman!
Unfortunately this lack of connection meant that when the inevitable happened and the famous tragedy occured, I was unable to feel the fear, panic and loss that an event like that should have brought forth. It was only when Dai was forever parted from Les in an act of love and personal heroism on Les’s part, did I feel moved.
And while we’re on the subject of the events of April 14th 1912, I was a little disappointed that the author didn’t make more of the setting. What do I mean? We as readers know what happened, the events are historical fact. Those onboard at the time didn’t. I thought that the story could have been pegged to the timeline of that event, using the ticking down of the days and hours as a way of ratcheting up the tension in us. I should have been on the point of wanting to reach into the pages of the book to grab the characters and shake them all by their lapels, pinafores and silk wraps and say … you don’t have time for this. Stop wasting what moments you have left. The knowledge of the fate of that ship and those people wasn’t really used as a narrative tool throughout the book, at least to me it wasn’t. It only really came to the fore when the sinking was actually taking place. Seems like a wasted opportunity to me.
I also wasn’t fussed on the circumstances as portrayed that lead to the ending as it took place in 1916 with the sinking of the Britannic by German sea mines. It all felt a little silly. It didn’t convince me. It also felt rushed and overdone.
I always feel a bit guilty when I don’t like a book that others wax lyrical about but I always have to remind myself that everyone’s reaction to something they read is different. No one is right or wrong. We feel what we feel and if it’s not the same as the person before or after us, then that is ok. So I have to say that The Deep wasn’t for me and I’ll have to try another book in order to get that great ghost story experience.
Rating: 2 Stars
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)