The Mary Celeste was a merchant ship discovered in December, 1872, under sail heading towards the Strait of Gibraltar No one was on board With one lifeboat missing, the ship was presumed abandoned Strangely, though, there was no indication of what caused the captain to leave the ship, along with his wife, two year old daughter, and seven crew members There were no signs of a struggle, there was plenty of food and water, and the ship was still seaworthy Engraving of the Mary Celeste at the time of discovery Wikipedia The mystery of the Mary Celeste caught the public s attention at the time, but interest surged when a short story was published in 1884 in Cornhill Magazine Entitled J Habakuk Jephson s Statement, the fictional tale was based on the mystery of the missing ship The anonymous author was the twenty four year old Arthur Conan Doyle, still three years away from publishing his first Sherlock Holmes story Arthur Conan Doyle WikipediaJ Habakuk Jephson s Statement in Cornhill Magazine Internet Archive Valerie Martin s novel The Ghost of the Mary Celeste draws on these historical events She addresses the mystery of the Mary Celeste s fate, of course, but in a way it is almost incidental to the numerous other puzzles here Martin interweaves tales of shipwrecks, a family that seems cursed by its association with the sea, a to be famous writer, and the Victorian world of the occult, replete with spiritualism, mediums, and charlatans.Martin tells these stories from different points of view, giving us little glimpses of the whole through the eyes of narrators with varying degrees of reliability Some of these characters are distant from the central events than others, but each is carefully drawn and feels fully realized The character portrayals are convincing for both the historical figures and the purely fictional characters, an important trick in historical fiction If I didn t know in advance who was an actual person, I don t think I would have been able to distinguish from the story, which is as it should be I expected this novel to be a re imagining of what could have happened to the ill fated ship It turned out to be less linear and ambiguous than I thought it would be, and, ultimately, intriguing A copy of this book for review was provided by NetGalley Doubleday Books. Though the fate of the Mary Celeste is not the primary focus of the novel, its title is fitting as its ghost haunts almost every section The several narratives, all chronological except for the last, carrying the overall story forward, include a third person harrowing sea tale that occurs prior to the Mary Celeste s the diary of a young woman who is related to victims of the first tale another third person account of a sea voyage, this time of the young Arthur Conan Doyle, the ship s doctor, on a trip to Africa and Nineteenth century sea travel is portrayed as the dangerous, crazy enterprise it was, countered by glimpses of the sea s and sky s amazing beauty My favorite section may be the delightful account of the dispersal of the issue of Cornhill from England to the U.S that contains Doyle s anonymous per Cornhill s policy , early, sensationalist fictional tale of a ship he calls the Marie Celeste and of the various reactions it engenders I couldn t help comparing Martin s female journalist favorably against the one depicted in Jayne Anne Phillips s Quiet Dell and the description of the setting of Lake Pleasant, Massachusetts, where the Spiritualists hold their annual convention, brought to mind James The Bostonians as did a couple of Martin s vacationing characters.If you ve read Martin s Trespass and didn t like what happens in the middle of the book, then you will dislike this one three times as much I ve heard Martin say than once at literary fests here in N.O., where she is from that some readers of Trespass complained to her and her response is they are her characters, she can do what she wants with them I wonder if she gleefully thought of those readers as she wrote this book. The British merchant brig Mary Celeste was discovered afloat and empty on December 5, 1872 A lifeboat was missing, along with eight crewmen and two passengers She was still seaworthy and under sail she had six months worth of provisions on board and the crew s valuables were intact There was no sign of a struggle, no apparent reason for the ship to have been abandoned None of the passengers or crew were ever heard from again Thus was born the greatest maritime mystery of all time If you are interested in that story, do not read this book I know that seems emphatic Almost like a threat Puts down baseball bat Really, I m just trying to save you the money spent purchasing the book, the days spent reading it, and the hours you ll waste on the internet complaining that this isn t what you expected This is actually a public service to keep you from disappointment and internet trolldom Valerie Martin s The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is a very fine book, one that does not deserve to be freighted with the unfair expectations of her readers Including myself I knew the gist of this novel before picking it up, therefore recalibrating my projections If you are looking for speculative fiction about the real life Mary Celeste, you should look elsewhere In fact, you need look no further than one of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste s characters, Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote a short story called J Habakuk Jephson s Statement, which purported to be a first person account from the mystery ship Martin s novel is not about the Mary Celeste, at least in the direct sense But as the title implies, the ghost ship haunts every page The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is an ornately crafted novel, part epistolary, constructed with diary entries and newspaper clippings, and partially told in the third person It has different characters and narrative strands that sometimes intertwine, and sometimes only inform each other from a distance The novel is about many things at once it is a sea story it explores 19th century Victorian era spiritualism and it is a story of unusual women during a time when women had a usual place The novel begins on a ship, the Early Dawn, with a wife and her husband, the ship s captain, asleep in their cabin There is a wonderful evocation of the ocean She pulled her hood in close, took a few steps from the hatch, and there it was, the sight she had long imagined at once she lamented the paucity of her imagination the sea Slate blue peaks studded with white foamy caps, line after line, each wave preceded by another and every one followed by another, as wide as the world was wide, and above it the sky, which was white, flat, and cold, the sun a brighter patch hovering in the distance.The weather turns bad, and the peacefulness of the voyage is disrupted by a visceral, terrifying portrayal of a shipwreck The captain, rising up to take a breath, felt a blow across his shoulders that knocked the remaining air out of his lungs and pushed him cruelly back down When he tried to rise again, something solid blocked his way There was no air left in his lungs he could feel his eyes bulging with the effort not to breathe He sensed a light behind him and turned toward it Then, with what terror and sadness he understood that he was looking down It turns out that the wife of the captain of the Early Dawn had a thirteen year old cousin That girl grows into the main character of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, at least to the extent it can be said there is a main character Her name is Violet Petra, and she becomes a famous psychic She earns her living through the patronage of wealthy benefactors who use her to communicate with the land of the dead Violet is a fascinating and sharply drawn character She is both confident and vulnerable tough and fragile And she is always a bit ambiguous She is given a worthy antagonist in Phoebe Grant, a female journalist and avowed skeptic Phoebe first meets Violet in an effort to expose her as a fraud Eventually, a strange kind of friendship grows between the two The main character triumvirate is rounded out by the aforementioned Arthur Conan Doyle His storyline is the weakest and most peripheral of the three Martin s narrative threads wend in and out, changing viewpoints, storytelling style, and time periods It pays to pay attention, but the overall structure is not overly complex I should know, since I have two young children at home and my attention is often drawn from the nuances of whatever novel I am reading At the end of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, I knew exactly what had happened If I can follow along, burdened by two loud children and a drinking habit, so can you The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is no all time classic It is an above average average novel It has better than usual characterizations, a fine touch for atmosphere, and a conclusion that is worth a spooky shiver or two. Has there ever been a compelling maritime mystery than the fate of the Mary Celeste In 1872, it was found drifting in the Atlantic Ocean deserted, unmanned, yet seaworthy and with its cargo fully intact Valerie Martin uses this mystery as a main plot device in her latest novel a page turning triumph that kept me up for two nights way past my bedtime But into this mystery, she weaves two additional threads One focuses on Arthur Conan Doyle, fittingly, the creator of one of the most legendary sleuths of all time, Sherlock Holmes When we first encounter him, he is launching his career by writing an anonymous and sensationalistic tale of the mystery of the doomed ship And the other explores the resilient bond between two disparate women, the spiritualist Violet Petra the sister of the captain s wife and a skeptical journalist named Phoebe Grant.As a result, Valerie Martin broadens the definition of ghosts to include the many ghosts that haunt us in our quest for love and connections the ghosts who have influenced what we have become, the ghosts of what we might have been What draws the bereaved to seek the departed still in this world she writes Is it hope, I wonder, or is it fear The ship, in a metaphorical way, becomes the symbol of our hubris What vanity of men, to sail about in fragile wooden boxes tricked out with sails, putting their lives, their fortunes, their families at the mercy of this ravenous, murderous, heartless beast of a sea There is so much to recommend this book that I don t even know where to begin Ms Martin steers her prose confidently forward, whether she s writing about authentically terrifying ocean disasters which make the reader feel RIGHT THERE or the nuances of a haunted young woman Violet who was left on the shore in this charade of a life The realism of her prose had me scrambling to Google than once to discover what was real and what was fiction Instead of relying on a tried and true linear structure, Ms Martin takes three seemingly unrelated vignettes and then weaves them and intricately into one overriding and satisfying narrative.She s not above poking a little fun at herself At one point, this thought is attributed to Arthur Conan Doyle The public, he knew, demanded a strong plot, adventures at sea went well, also ghosts and mysteries of all kinds Why not put them all together Why not indeed I envy those who are about to begin this ingenious boo. Ummmmm This was ONE weird book And not in the ghostly creepy weird that I was expecting I do not even know how to review this book I am just sitting here going W T H just happened and you CANNOT end a book that way , but apparently you can I listened to it on Hoopla Audio and had to get the Kindle book as well as some of the narration while EXCELLENT I highly recommend this narrator for anything I mean, I would listen to her read the phone book she is that good Susie Berneis is her name I highly recommend her narration of Uncle Tom s Cabin SHE was amazing with that book featured voices from New Hampshire and such and I needed to see the words to understand what was being said This is not a happy book There is very little happiness to be found, if any, between its pages There is much sadness and sorrow and a lot of speculation Good read weird, but good. I love the story of the Mary Celeste I first read about it in a Reader s Digest anthology of mysteries and unexplained events that was on my parents shelf in the 70 s I read the article probably forty times It was so captivating A ship found with the crew missing and the only clue being blood on the floor To further add intrigue, the crew included the captain s wife and their young daughter, Sophia Her fate is a mystery lost to history much like that of young Virginia Dare in the lost Roanoke Colony It was with great anticipation that I picked up a book based on one of my most favorite true life historical mysteries Alas it was not to be It was a mishmash of disjointed tales barely related to the Mary Celeste I felt like giving up on page 100 but that ghostly ship on the cover kept me slogging one It took me three days to make it through the last 100 pages At page 270 it looks like we are finally going to get some answers or at least a fictional account of the crews last days on the ship through a found captains log from the Mary Celeste There is a brief account of the fate of the ships s captain and then nothing The book abruptly ends I got satisfaction from reading the Wikipedia article about the ship An extremely frustrating book with no payout for having stuck with it for the reader at the end. So much to love about this book, from the gorgeous writing not so gorgeous that it shouts, Pay attention to me but sheer pleasure to read to Martin s skillful weaving together of real events, actual people, and fictional characters As a historian, I was never pulled out of the story by some anachronistic detail Rather, I was delighted by Martin s ability to inhabit the mid to late nineteenth century period in which she sets this tale It all felt plausible no, than plausible it deepened my understanding of the time, allowing me to inhabit it too.Martin provides intimate portraits of New England seafaring families, of life aboard a steamer plying the African interior where we first meet the young Arthur Conan Doyle , of the spiritualist summer camp in upstate New York where wealthy, grieving women for the most part indulge themselves in the illusion that life is continuous and that the dead only wait for our attention to make themselves known again She gives us wonderful characters with rich inner lives whose interactions surprise us without feeling contrived The prickly relationship between the woman journalist, Phoebe Grant who reminds me of Wilkie Collins s intelligent heroine from The Woman in White, Marian Halcombe and the medium Violet Petra was particularly well done.So, why only four stars The writer in me was dissatisfied with one key element of the story, view spoiler Martin s decision to have Violet go overboard, succumbing at last to her morbid fascination with the dead by following her drowned relatives into the sea, hide spoiler This book, about the maritime mystery of the ghost ship Mary Celeste, started off great The author draws you in to the Briggs family and their losses at sea pre Mary Celeste We meet Sallie Sarah and her sister who claims to communicate with dead loved ones and the trouble this causes in the family After that, the book spirals off into different tangents The first involves Arthur Conan Doyle who really wrote a famous story about the Mary Celeste and the second involves the mysterious spiritualist Violet Petra who astute readers will know right away is the aforementioned seer sister There is a lot of interesting stuff about the spiritualists and voyages to Africa and what not, but the reader didn t really get to revisit the mystery of the ghost ship until the last fifty or so pages and by then, I didn t care Well written from a language standpoint, but curiously organized. A Captivating, Atmospheric Return To Historical Fiction That Is Every Bit As Convincing And Engrossing As Martin S Landmark Mary Reilly In The American Merchant Vessel Mary Celeste Was Discovered Adrift Off The Coast Of Spain Her Cargo Was Intact And There Was No Sign Of Struggle, But The Crew Was Gone They Were Never Found This Maritime Mystery Lies At The Center Of An Intricate Narrative Branching Through The Highest Levels Of Late Nineteenth Century Literary Society While On A Voyage To Africa, A Rather Hard Up And Unproven Young Writer Named Arthur Conan Doyle Hears Of The Mary Celeste And Decides To Write An Outlandish Short Story About What Took Place This Story Causes Quite A Sensation Back In The United States, Particularly Between Sought After Philadelphia Spiritualist Medium Violet Petra And A Rational Minded Journalist Named Phoebe Grant, Who Is Seeking To Expose Petra As A Fraud Then There Is The Family Of The Mary Celeste S Captain, A Family Linked To The Sea For Generations And Marked Repeatedly By Tragedy Each Member Of This Ensemble Cast Holds A Critical Piece To The Puzzle Of The Mary Celeste These Three Elements A Ship Found Sailing Without A Crew, A Famous Writer On The Verge Of Enormous Success, And The Rise Of An Unorthodox And Heretical Religious Fervor Converge In Unexpected Ways, In Diaries, In Letters, In Safe Harbors And Rough Seas In A Haunted, Death Obsessed Age, A Ghost Ship Appearing In The Mist Is By Turns A Provocative Mystery, An Inspiration To Creativity, And A Tragic Story Of The Disappearance Of A Family And Of A Bond Between Husband And Wife That, For One Moment, Transcends The Impenetrable Barrier Of Death I did quite enjoy this book about the mystery surrounding the ship the Mary Celeste, my only reason for not giving it 5 stars was the fact that the main storyline branches out to a few other storylines that cross paths, and so at first it made me wonder where all this was headed I wished that all the stories would have been neatly connected, but I will say I did like Valerie Martin s writing style and her descriptions with this novel thus the 4 stars and I am looking forward to picking up of her books.
Valerie Martin is the author of nine novels, including Trespass, Mary Reilly, Italian Fever, and Property, three collections of short fiction, and a biography of St Francis of Assisi, titled Salvation She has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as the Kafka Prize for Mary Reilly and Britain s Orange Prize for Property.
- 306 pages
- The Ghost of the Mary Celeste
- Valerie Martin
- 27 September 2017 Valerie Martin