Friday, 1 June 2012

Unsinkable by Paige Turner

Ted Dorley, confidence man, is looking for a new life in the New World, and relishes the opportunity to mingle with the great and the good of the day on board the RMS Titanic.

He expects to find fortune, and perhaps to find fame, but he doesn’t expect to find love in the arms of dark-eyed cellist Robert Briceaux, one of the Titanic’s band of dedicated musicians.

When the ship strikes an iceberg close to midnight in the middle of the Atlantic, passengers panic and the crew try to keep the band plays on. As the Ship of Dreams disappears into the calm, black waters of the deep, has Ted lost his new-found love to the icy embrace of the ocean?

Long, long before the film Titanic hit the theatres and became the tragedy blockbuster of all time, I had a fascination—bordering on obsession, actually—with the legendary ocean liner and its horrific fate. Something so unfathomable always chilled me, imagining every ounce of horror from its first clash with the iceberg to its slow, slow descent to the bottom of the ocean. So the moment I glimpsed the cover of Unsinkable, my heart did that fluttery thing it does anytime I know I’m going to step across that threshold and into that historic event. This would be not only my first book by the author, Paige Turner, but my first romance novel to center on the tragedy.

First of all, I have to comment on the authenticity Ms. Turner lent to her romance of this era. To the lush painting of the crowds, the excitement, the clothes, the hair styles, the automobiles, the hugeness and newness of the ocean liner itself. With the author’s penmanship, I could hear the tinkling of chandeliers and silver flatware on expensive dinnerware, the clink of champagne glasses and the orchestra.

The story centers around two lovers—Ted and Robert. The blurb introduces them to you, so I won’t elaborate on who they are or what they are.

I was immediately drawn to them both. I don’t know if my tenderness for them and their almost-immediate bond was because I knew something they did not know—I knew what was ahead for them and I knew their love might be the last for each of them—or just because their personalities grabbed me. Both, I think. 

I knew what lay ahead for them, and it stabbed my heart to see their love flourish, to witness their passion both in bed and out.

Speaking of passion, the sex scenes abounded and were very intense and yet very intimate. One scene, in particular, took place—of all things—in an empty barber shop on board the ship. Oh, my. I still think about that steamy episode and have to say the sight of a barber’s chair will always conjure visions of romance and erotic encounters from now on.

Back to their relationship. It was torture to follow their blooming love, to trail behind them while they took a wonderful freefall of love, completely oblivious to the nightmare awaiting them.

I had serious doubts upon reaching the climax of the novella. Okay, just how well can Ms. Turner pull off the sheer, raw emotion of these two lovers when disaster does strike? If she cannot do so, the whole point of the book is ruined. This is not some big lover’s quarrel or—as they call it—the Big Misunderstanding. This is love in the face of horrendous fear of death and separation.

The author passed with flying colors. Without giving spoilers, or certainly trying not to, one scene touched me in particular, which cast the heart-wrenching emptiness for Ted after the ship has begun its descent to its water grave. Robert—his Robert—drifting out there somewhere in the black water, cold and dead and all alone, his only lullaby the screaming roar of the dying ship and the cries of the doomed and damned. I felt Ted’s anguish and his loneliness, his darkness.

And, in Ms. Turner’s superb capture of the sad-but-too-true ways so many on board the ship handled their approaching doom, this one scene stood out: Ted glanced around once more at the bizarre scene—the passengers riding on the stationary bicycles or doing physical jerks, all wrapped up in their warmest clothes and sporting cork life jackets. The expressions on their faces ranged from grim and tearful to stoic and determined. Yet here they were, pedalling away what could be the last minutes of their lives. Astonishing how different were people’s reactions to the fear of imminent death. That passage sent chills through me. Broke my heart and brought tears to my eyes. It would have been sad enough, even had it been fiction; but its impact was worse because it was true.

Don’t you wish I’d tell you the outcome for Ted and Robert? Can’t do it. But I can tell you that, by the time the mighty Titanic scrapes that iceberg and the infamous journey to peril begins, your heart will pick up its pace while you bite your nails. Yes, by this time, you will be beside yourself and, in that delightfully anxious wait for the tug of war—will our boys live or die?—you will frantically read to the end.

And it will all have been worth your anxiety. You’ll close the book with a sigh—pained that you relived the tragedy once more, content that you realized you’d just read a damn good book.

Highly recommended.

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