As a big fan of ‘Me Before You’ and ‘Still Me’, I’ve been keen to try more of Jojo Moyes’ work and was really excited to get my teeth into this. Particularly as it was inspired by a true story that took place in the (post WWII) forties and was inspired by an event that really captured my imagination. So, did it live up to my expectations? Read on for my review of Jojo Moyes Ship of Brides.
The premise is an extraordinary one, made even more so when you realise that this novel was based on a true story. The year is 1946 and 655 Australian brides leave their families behind to sail on an aircraft carrier – the once magnificent Victoria – to join the husbands that they met (some very briefly) and married during the war. We get to know 4 of the women who share a cabin, the enigmatic marine posted at their door, the gruff captain taking the ship on its final voyage along with a cast of deck hands and a boozy ship doctor for good measure!
The story takes you through their almost six weeks at sea, reveals the (very different) back stories of each woman, deep dark secrets that have been hidden – along with a furry stowaway – and tells a love story centred around one of the young women whose life is altered forever in those weeks onboard Victoria. There’s the enigmatic Frances who reveals nothing but is clearly very different to her cabin mates, the social climbing Avice who is all about the superficial and ends up learning some important lessons along the way, the open and friendly farm girl Margaret who is heavily pregnant and missing her family and 16 year old Jean who gets herself into compromising positions and risks her new future with the mistakes that she makes.
So, what did I love?
I love a good historical drama – I can’t get enough of the likes of Phillipa Gregory and Sebastian Faulks – and this was no different. Having grown up with a mum telling me about her evacuation (from London) in the war and then going on to study French and German at Uni, this period of British (and European) history has always appealed and it was really interesting to see this WWII tale with an Aussie twist and to see how these young women’s lives changed at the end of the war. Some of them even before that reach Plymouth as they receive dreaded telegrams (from their husbands) with the four words that they come to fear ‘Not wanted Don’t Come’
I also love – true romantic that I am! – that this novel was actually inspired by Jojo Moyes’ grandparents’ story and her grandmother who actually took passage on the boat.
Whilst I didn’t connect with the characters hugely – it’s a panoramic tale that covers a lot of territory so feels more like a superficial discovery of many than an in-depth portrayal of a few – I really enjoyed how she brings to life the rich tapestry of life onboard; how the ship and its passengers reveal themselves level by level, from Tims in the stoker’s mess, to the boozy doc singing show tunes , to the brooding marine who guards them, revealing little by little his relationship with the sea and his family to the captain physically coming apart at the seams – just as his ship is – with an uncertain future and seeking redemption after sinking his previous ship to his power hungry second in command trying to undermine him at every turn.
I found the rhythm of the passage really intriguing with its curious mix of naval operation and almost cruise ship atmosphere with entertainment devised to keep the girls entertained and out of trouble, like a series of lectures on life in England, a dinner dance and beauty pageant.
All in all, it’s a good, easy read and one that I enjoyed. It’s not ‘Me Before You’ but good on the bus or by the pool fodder. Or even a gift for your mum or aunt. It’s not emotionally or intellectually demanding but a nice and easy romp and an enjoyable escape as we join the brides as they travel to their new homes and lives in the U.K.