2014: 25. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste


"The captain and his wife were asleep in each other's arms."

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, Valerie Martin

So much for not judging a book by its cover! I grabbed this off the new book shelf in the library because it looked interesting and was amply rewarded (ok, the cover also said that the author had previously won the Orange Prize, so I figured it had to at least be decently written).  And it was great - totally engrossing, I read it one day, etc. etc.  

It's sort of the story of the Mary Celeste, which is a famous true story of a ghost ship.  One day the  Mary Celeste was found floating a sea, in perfect condition, but with it's entire crew (including the captain, his wife, and their two year old daughter) missing.  It became a sensation as they tried to figure out what happened, and has remained a famous mystery.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a story purporting to tell the tale, and where he started, others have followed.  

I say it's sort of the story, because while the Mary Celeste figures in the novel, it's more a framework around which a number of other stories are hung - stories about going to sea and about Spiritualism, and about loss.  The family members affiliated with the Mary Celeste figure heavily - as does Conan Doyle, and in the end a sort of solution to the mystery is propounded, but it's less important than the mediations on loss and the questions of spirits. 

The plot is a little wonky if you really try to unfold it, but it's not really the point.  The characters are so great and intriguing, and drew me right in (often to my detriment, as it doesn't end well for all of them).  I've read many novels about Spiritualists before, and I've even read another novel where Conan Doyle was a character (that would be Arthur and George), and still this felt totally fresh.  Martin captures something about how all the death and loss of that time period would lead to the obsession with the afterlife that felt new to me - hit me emotionally, anyway.  A very very good read, and I will read more Martin (maybe even her book Mary Reilly, which was made into that terrible Julia Roberts movie).  

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017