When this book arrived in the post from Secret Book Club, it felt like it was kismet. In 1903, my Great, Great Aunt Mary made the journey from Queenstown in Ireland to New York. She was 16 years old. She boarded a ship called ‘The Germanic’ to begin a new life in America with an aunt who had already made the trip there, several years before.
In The Girl Who Came Home, we encounter Maggie Murphy. She is 17 years old. It is 1912. She is leaving Ireland for a new life with her Aunt Kathleen in Chicago, but it means leaving behind the man she loves. Yet, Maggie and her friends from Ballysheen board the magnificent ‘Titanic’, the biggest ship of its time; the ship they claim is unsinkable and Maggie’s life will change forever.
The ‘unsinkable’ Titanic.
I was afraid that knowing quite a lot about the ‘Titanic’ from recent documentaries, movies and television specials, it would affect how I read the novel. I need not have worried. Yes, this book identifies what happened on the ‘Titanic’, but it also depicts what it would have been like if you had survived. Waking up in a hospital in a country you didn’t know, without any surviving family or friends. Or, being a family member waiting as the ‘Carpathia’ docked, praying that your family had survived. These stories have rarely been told. Hazel Gaynor portrays the aftermath and after effects of the tragedy in such detail, providing a completely different view on the already well-docuemted event.
Maggie Murphy is not the only protagonist in ‘The Girl Who Came Home’. There is also Grace Butler; Maggie’s great-granddaughter who, in 1982, leaves college after the death of her father. Grace is lost and when Maggie reveals her story of being on the ‘Titanic’, Grace, a former writer is revived by it. Gaynor uses heaps of imagery to join the two women together. Maggie’s cabin on the ‘Titanic’ and Grace’s dorm room at college could well be the same room; the way they both find themselves through the use of paper and pen, as well as their love for men named James. The women are so entwined that their stories roll in and out of each other, like waves. They are dependent on each other to put the pain of the past behind them.
Yet, the most overwhelming component of this novel is the fact that the fourteen travellers who leave Ballysheen for a new life in America are based on real people; a group called the Addergoole Fourteen. Eleven of the group did not survive and this equated to the largest loss of life from one village. The author treats their stories with the utmost respect and dignity.
It really surprised me that this was Hazel Gaynor’s first historical novel. This novel is impeccably written, it really touches your heart and leaves you with the hope that love can conquer even after the greatest tragedy. Yet, even more so, I’d like to thank Hazel for telling the stories of these men and women who were immigrating to America, whether they sailed on the ‘Titanic’ or the ‘Germanic’ like my relative, Mary. She has given them a voice that their future generations can now hear.