book review: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

The backstory: I previously adored Valerie Martin's Orange Prize-winning novel Property.

The basics: The Mary Celeste was found abandoned in 1872. The ship was in tact, there were no signs of a struggle, but the crew was gone. Arthur Conan Doyle writes a soon-to-be-famou short story about what happened. Meanwhile, medium Violet Petra, who can communicate with the dead, exemplifies the growing fascination with ghosts and unexplained.

My thoughts: I was not familiar with the mystery of the Mary Celeste before reading this book, but I was instantly intrigued by it. Martin does not structure this novel in a straight-forward way, which mimics the mystery of the ship itself. Characters come and go throughout the novel, and the reader is left to piece together how these parts fit together. This passage about a third of the way into the novel illustrates Martin's craftiness:
"Though most of its critics recognized Jephson's "Statement" as fiction and placed it in the long flights of honorable tradition of elaborate flights of imagination inspired by real events, there were, there always are, readers who believed the article to be a true account."
Although ostensibly speaking about Doyle's story, published as though it were a true account, I believe Martin is signalling the reader of her true intentions here. Martin weaves a complicated and intellectual tale for her readers in this novel. Discerning readers will put many of the pieces together themselves as the novel progresses, and eventually all of the small stories come together beautifully within a larger narrative. As Martin warns, however, readers seeking a simple explanation to an old mystery may be only fooling themselves.

Favorite passage: "Together they scoffed at the pedestrian sensibilities of the average reader. They viewed the ordinary world from a distance."

The verdict: The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is a worthy companion to the mystery of the real Mary Celeste. Martin's far-reaching imagination rebuilds the world so richly and beautifully, I found myself as intrigued with the fictional mysteries in this novel as I was with the real ones.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: January 28, 2014
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Ghost of the Mary Celeste from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Valerie Martin's website and follow her on Twitter.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


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