Millionaire John Jacob Astor hopes to bring home his pregnant teen bride with a minimum of media scandal. A beautiful Lebanese refugee, on her way to family in Florida, discovers the first stirrings of love. And an ancient iceberg glides south, anticipating its fateful encounter. The voices in this remarkable re-creation of the Titanic disaster span classes and stations, from Margaret (“the unsinkable Molly”) Brown to the captain who went down with his ship; from the lookout and wireless men to a young boy in search of dragons and a gambler in search of marks. Slipping in telegraphs, undertaker’s reports, and other records, poet Allan Wolf offers a breathtaking, intimate glimpse at the lives behind the tragedy, told with clear-eyed compassion and astounding emotional power.
This book is a masterpiece.
How do you write a history that has already been immortalized? You start from the beginning, making no assumptions, and carefully piece together a story that feels fresh and captivating. Allan Wolf writes about the Titanic in such a way that you feel excited by each detail and follow the story as if through new eyes. Because The Watch That Ends the Night is about so much more than just the story of the Titanic, it’s about the people involved in the tragedy.
A cast of over twenty-four characters tell the Titanic’s story, ranging from young children to older men, from the rich to the poor, from the human to the rats and ice. Each voice is unique and captivating, providing the briefest of glimpses into the lives of those who sailed on-board the Titanic. The large cast provides room for commentary of social classes, women’s rights, cultural differences and love. The Titanic is the merely the stage on which the play is set, the characters are key; each is treated with equal importance.
The iceberg is given a voice too, the voice of fate. She’s a malevolent iceberg, anticipating the lives it will soon take, but she’s not an unsympathetic character either. After all, it is the Titanic that plotted its course into her path and refused to steer clear.
Humourous, contemplative and tragic, The Watch That Ends the Night hits all the emotional notes. Despite knowing how it will all end, you feel a sense of dread from the start that turns to fear and horror, then finally, sorrow. It is a tragedy in which everything that could go wrong, went wrong. From lack of life boats, to the hubris involved, it is not easy to point to one specific thing that went wrong. And Wolf, through mountains of research, is careful to provide a full and balanced perspective.
The musicality of the free verse poetry is sublime. Without the need for flowery metaphors, The Watch That Ends the Night flows effortlessly and rhythmically. Voices echo others, mostly singing alone, but occasionally harmonizing together. It is a poets’ musical.
I, like many others, have always been fascinated by the Titanic. And I don’t mean the movie. There’s something about the tragedy of the unsinkable sinking that proves captivating. Perhaps because of how easily it could have been averted, or perhaps the lingering sense of mystery is what causes children and scholars alike to remain enchanted. And this novel evokes all those feeling, making the Titanic tangible once more.
The Watch That Ends the Night is the epitome of an all ages novel. It is truly a book that can be loved and appreciated by everyone. It is beautiful and haunting, a novel I won’t soon forgot and will undoubtedly read again.
The highest recommendation.