Archie Mullins has only one thing in his life other than his family - poverty. He is the wage earner in his house, looking after his younger brothers and his mother. He is the only one able to go out to work and he is 17. He is neither strong nor weak but he has a determination to provide and survive and his only chance presents itself at the Southampton Quay.
His route out of this life is a trip across the ocean.
It will be his first trip in 1912 and his last.
Archie is to work for the White Star Line only once.
Archie has the chance to work on RMS Titanic.
The reader knows exactly what is going to happen, there is no need for that anticipation but what James Darcy manages to do in this novel is build up the emotional tension through all the characters whilst at the same time, showing us what life was like on board, what was really going on behind the scenes that no one knew at the time, showing us the people who kept the ship going.
Archie experiences many things he has not before, the hardness of the four hour shift
Working in teams Archie had been paired with Lyle Benson, they would supply coal to boiler room number five, one would fill the barrow and the other would wheel it up the tunnel to the Stokers and Firemen working the furnaces, all 159 of them.
The joy at the amount of food to eat, never before had Archie eaten so much in one sitting. He was fuelling himself to be able to fuel the ship. Thoughts turning back to the brother he had left behind to now bring in the wage and what they would be eating or not.
This book is not about the passengers of the ship, although mentioned in reference and mainly the lower classes - it is about the workers in the main. Sammy, Archie's friend who he sailed with, Harry and Albert old hands at such voyages who guide Archie
"Don't worry about the gloves [Harry having given Archie a pair of his own], take care of yourself"
Yusef Gans, the Jewish tailor, repairing the items required by the passengers, the largest repair was a few days away and Yusef would not be able to stitch that back together, but it brought him closer to his love.
Mary and her children joining the ship in Ireland, leaving an old world and joining a new one. But Mary and her children's world become two very different ones and not through choice.
The scene is set for what we all know will happen. But actually James Darcy does not make this the catalyst if you will of the book. The tension, the stillness of the night, the cold, the predictions and thoughts of the many characters both those on the ship and those left at home are turned on a knife edge when those infamous words were said to be uttered....
'Iceberg right ahead!'
A very different novel from what I was expecting, emotionally wrought, I felt quite drained in some places reading about the experiences and their lives. But I also felt so privileged to have read about the characters, who although not real could have been so easily from the writing. The book is very moving and I recommend reading it, probably more than once to get the impact.