The Ship of Brides seemed like such an intriguing story. The excerpt offered a story that was quite different from the usual romance or drama type books. It was based on actual events, and set in an era I love – the 1940s. I love my War movies and War stories, so this book moved to the top of my TBR list.
I recently read a book by JoJo Moyes – One Plus One. And I thought I might see more of British slang. But I was presently surprised. The language is quite neutral, or ‘correct’ with only some slight colloquial usage thrown in. The Allied Army, in this case, the British went far and wide from their country to fight the WWII and they married women in lands as far as Australia. After the war, all these brides had to be brought back home to England to join their husbands. The Ship of Brides is about a bunch of such 600-700 women, or brides, as they are referred to throughout the book.
The story begins in 2002, when an old lady travelling through India comes across a decrepit old ship in a junkyard. This puts her in a spin and then the rest of the book takes us back to 1946 and the great voyage of the brides. The story focuses on four brides who end up sharing a dormitory on the ship. These four women couldn’t be more different. There are many plots and sub plots about the brides, their life before they came on the ship, and indeed about the ship itself. There are some extracts from newspapers or books that speak about this historic event.
Margaret Donleavy lives on a farm with her rowdy brothers and father. They have recently lost her mother. Carrying her husband Joe’s child, Maggie is eager to get away from the farm for multiple reasons. Jean is only 16, and fond of having fun as befits her age. She quickly gains a reputation as a flirt. Frances is a trained nurse who has treated thousands of soldiers during the War and seen horrific things. Avice is a rich spoiled brat who is forever bragging about money and status, and showing off her fancy belongings.
The HMS Victorious is a tired naval warship that is set to be decommissioned, and so is her Captain. The ship is fitted to accommodate 650+ brides, along with a crew of over a thousand. Special routines are introduced for the brides such as movies, lectures about married life, cooking classes etc., and there is even a hair salon put in. It is all a total hoot!
One of the things that surprised me was how much importance the brides give to their clothes and appearance, even on the ship and on a 6 week voyage. They put on makeup, set their hair and primp in every way possible. At times, it seems a bit surreal.
As far as the story goes, there is so much to say that I don’t know what to say! Book lovers will enjoy this one, and get hooked in from the start. Like the brides who took on this 6 week odyssey without knowing what lay at the other end, every reader will embark on an unknown voyage and experience several emotions in the course of the book.
There are some things I did not ‘get’ while reading the book. In the beginning, as the old lady, our narrator, is traveling reluctantly by road in India, the driver keeps addressing her as ‘yaar’ which is sort of like slang for dude. This is totally unrealistic considering the old lady’s age and the fact that she is a rich foreigner, or ‘white’, to be precise. Throughout the book, the ship is often referred to as ‘Victoria’, perhaps that is a nickname given by the crew? But these minor distractions will not keep you away from the story.
The brides battle sea sickness, homesickness, petty rivalry, apprehension, envy and a bunch of other challenges. How many of these will actually make it to England safe and sound? Read JoJo Moyes’s The Ship of Brides to find out. You won’t be sorry!