Published: April 2014 by William Morrow Paperbacks
Category: Dual Timeline, Historical Fiction, Based on Fact, Contemporary, Book Review
Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.
My first experience of Hazel Gaynor’s books was The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, based on the life of Grace Darling, which I loved. I enjoy the fact there’s truth mixed in with fiction and The Girl Who Came Home is no exception. It tells the story of Maggie Murphy from Ballysheen, Ireland, who was travelling with a group of women from the village, bound for New York and booked on the Titanic for the ship’s maiden voyage in 1912. The story was inspired by events surrounding the true story of the Addergoole Fourteen, Irish emigrants from County Mayo.
When Maggie was left an orphan, her mother’s sister and Maggie’s guardian, Aunt Kathleen, came from America to take Maggie back to Chicago with her. The thought of leaving Ballysheen and being separated from her sweetheart Séamus Doyle, the man she thought she would marry, left seventeen year old Maggie feeling bereft and anxious about the journey.
“You certainly don’t need to be worrying about Maura Brennan, I can tell ye,” Kathleen had replied, brushing Maggie’s naïve fears easily aside. “She’s crossed that ocean more times than most men ever will, and a baby in her belly won’t make one bit of difference. Anyway, we’re sailing on the Titanic, the biggest ship in the world. Unsinkable, y’know. No better crib for any of us.”
Seventy years later in Cass County, Illinois Grace Butler rummages through her great grandmother’s attic searching for a small black case…
Everyone knows the story of the Titanic’s fateful maiden voyage and there have been lots of books written. I particularly enjoyed this one because of the perspectives. The Girl Who Came Home is told in a dual timeline. Maggie’s and the villagers in 1912 as they prepare for their short and terrible journey on the Titanic. Grace, seventy years later in America, trying to get her life back on track after the death of her father. Learning of her great grandmother’s incredible story gives them a much needed new direction and a welcome sense of peace.
Hazel Gaynor’s descriptive writing—the settings, the ship and steerage accommodations, the scenes in the North Sea as unconcern turns to confusion, then to fear and panic—is clear and vivid. Then the terrible aftermath as the ship goes down. No matter how many times I read about the sinking of the Titanic it gives me chills and brings a lump to my throat.
Maggie stood in a daze, unable to comprehend what she was seeing. All around her, people were running, some carrying deck chairs, some holding wooden crates or empty trunks, others clutching life rings—everyone desperately searching for something they might be able to hold on to in the water—something that might mean the difference between life and death.