Reviewed by Debs Carr
May Smith is travelling with her husband and baby, Ellen, on the Titanic to begin a new life in America. When their ship is hit by an iceberg and they can't find any lifeboats, Joe refuses to give up and holding Ellen he shouts at May to jump into the icy water. Her husband and baby are soon lost to her, but May is pulled into a lifeboat. Hysterical, she tries to call for them and when Captain Smith reaches her boat and hands her a baby she believes the child is her daughter. She is comforted by Celeste Parkes, an English woman on her way home to her wealthy, but cruel husband in Ohio. The sights and sounds of the dying passengers traumatise the two women and as the ship goes down and the Carpathia rescues them, they form a friendship that neither realises will last for the rest of their lives.
The following morning May discovers that the baby she’s been holding is not her daughter, but when she’s asked about the child she's unable to part with her and lies, telling everyone the baby's name is Ella. She is relieved when no one claims the child as their own when they dock in New York. An Italian immigrant, Angelo, is in the crowd. He's desperately scanning the survivors to try and locate his wife and baby daughter. Distraught when he can't see them, he's given hope when he finds an intricately knitted shoe and is certain that it belongs to his daughter and that she is somehow alive.
May’s split-second decision to lie about the baby girl haunts her over the years with the knowledge of her deception gnawing away at her. Unable to discard Ella’s only link to her true parentage, May hides away the exquisite clothes, albeit with the missing shoe, certain that one day she’ll tell her adopted daughter more.
The sinking of the Titanic is covered in the first fifty or so pages of the book, although the repercussions of that night are felt throughout the story. The difficulties that the women experience and the decisions they are forced to make, kept me enthralled. The story moves through three generations from 1912 to the fifties and the characters' lives are beautifully interwoven.
May with her unappealing looks and lack of confidence struggles to keep her link to the Titanic a secret from everyone. Celeste, unaware that her friend has taken on someone else’s child, does her best to help May and raises money for the survivors while she in turn tries to find a way to leave her brutal husband. Ella, so different from her mother, is artistic and very beautiful and we see her meet and fall in love with a pilot during the Second World War. Meanwhile, Angelo fights his demons and struggles with the belief that he may one day find his daughter.
The stories of the different characters are beautifully depicted. I’ve read Leah Fleming’s books before and have always enjoyed them. The story of Captain Smith saving a baby may or may not be a myth, but it’s a clever idea and a different slant on a Titanic based novel.
A fast-paced novel filled with drama and tragedy which questions how split-second choices can change the course of many lives.
Leah Fleming's website