What’s it all about?:
The year is 1946, and all over the world, young women are crossing the seas in the thousands en route to the men they married in wartime – and an unknown future. In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other brides on an extraordinary voyage to England, aboard the HMS Victoria, which also carries not just arms and aircraft but 1,000 naval officers and men. Rules of honour, duty, and separation are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier’s captain down to the lowliest young stoker. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined in ways the Navy could never have imagined.
What did I think?:
On my quest to read the entire back catalogue of one of my favourite authors, Jojo Moyes, I came across this little gem, The Ship Of Brides which is set immediately after the end of the Second World War. The majority of the story is set on-board HMS Victoria, a Royal Navy aircraft carrier due to be retired soon after its final journey which attempts to take hundreds of brides from Australia back to England to meet up with the husbands they married during the war. Many of these women have not seen their husbands for months, have never met their families, in fact, some barely know them at all! Still, they left their own family not knowing when or if they would see them again, to undergo a voyage at sea for many weeks to (hopefully) meet up with their spouses. (That is, if they didn’t receive the dreaded telegram whilst on-board – “Not wanted, do not come.”) which happened more regularly than you would expect. I have a bit of giddy love for stories set within war-time so I sensed I was going to enjoy this book but what I didn’t realise that it was based on an actual voyage on HMS Victorious with memories taken from the authors own grandmother. This, along with the journal entries/notes that began each chapter being from genuine passengers on the above mentioned voyage, only add more authenticity to an already compelling story.
There are a range of juicy characters for the reader to get their teeth into, the four main ones are brides on the crossing. There is Margaret, heavily pregnant and desperate for the voyage to be over so that she can get stuck into her new family life with her new arrival in earnest. Margaret was raised on an Australian farm, so we get a no-nonsense, no frills, airs or graces but warm and generous woman who is fiercely loyal to those that she be-friends on the journey. Then there is the other side of the coin, so as to speak with wealthy Avice, quick to look down her nose and sneer at others, the mysterious Frances, a former nurse who has more than one skeleton in her closet and appears cold and unyielding and sixteen year old Jean, young, slightly foolhardy, up for a good time (especially with all the MEN on board, oh my goodness!). These four ladies are forced to room together which leads to unlikely friendships, secrets, tragedy and some good old fashioned bonding as they learn that there’s nowhere to run and definitely nowhere to hide whilst at sea. A couple of intriguing male characters are thrown into the soup – a Marine who stands guard outside the ladies door with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a lot of sadness in his life. This is much the same for the Captain of the ship who harnesses a terrible guilt about a previous voyage when something went badly wrong.
As we follow the brides through their voyage we get a mixture of just about everything to delight the reader, high drama and tension, tragedy, death, a sprinkle of romance and even a lovely legs competition. Well… there’s not much else to do at sea, is there? I loved watching the characters grow throughout the journey as they begin to bond and help each other through tough times while preparing themselves for the unknown which lies ahead. The author has a wonderful way of making you feel something for every character, no matter how horrid and I really enjoyed the little surprises around each corner which I never seemed to anticipate. As a war-time novel, it’s a fantastic piece of fiction with those lovely elements of potential truth attached knowing that a similar voyage actually happened.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT JOJO MOYES READ: Silver Bay coming soon!