The Deep by Alma Katsu
Transworld, hb, £16.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Annie Hebbley survived the Titanic, one of the lucky few who escaped on a lifeboat. It left her with mental scars that four years in Morninggate Asylum, Liverpool, had barely started to heal. But as she is self-committed, she can leave at any time, something her doctor encourages her to do when Annie’s friend invites her work onboard the Britannica.
Setting foot on board the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannica, releases memories Annie had repressed. Even though the Britannica is now a hospital ship bringing wounded World War 2 soldiers home to England, Annie walks the corridors as if it was the Titanic. And when a fellow Titanic survivor is brought aboard, a soldier called Mark, Annie remembers everything and her mental health begins to degrade. Is Annie suffering from a mental breakdown, or have the ghosts that haunted the Titanic in its final hours followed her, just waiting for the right moment to claim her?
There are many books and films about the last few days of the Titanic, and how the passengers responded to the disaster. Where this differs from most, is the sinking is not central to the story. Instead, the action focuses on the days before and a seance held by some first-class passengers.
As with all good ghost stories, the strange incidents have supernatural explanations as well as logical ones. Are the characters being haunted by a vengeful spirit, or are the females all suffering from post-natal depression or Catholic guilt? I won’t give you any spoilers, but I will reassure you that we are given an answer at the end of the book.
Katsu explores the theme of mental illness throughout, drawing parallels between male and female mental illness perception. We start with a letter from Annie’s father to a mental institute inquiring if his daughter is a resident. The father’s opinion is that Annie is fragile-minded, and as Annie is at Morninggate, we are encouraged to believe he is corrected. During the story, Annie wonders what is the difference between female hysteria and the rages her father would fly into, which would have the whole family quaking with terror.
This is historical fiction, and so the characters were real passengers on the Titanic. Katsu uses many of their points of view to tell the story and two different timelines, 1912 and 1916. The different timelines are clear cut, but the numerous points of view left me a little confused about who the main characters were other than Annie. Mark Fletcher is a crucial character. Yet, he doesn’t become prominent until a quarter of the way through, when he comes aboard the Britannica, wounded.
However, that was a minor issue for me and didn’t stop my enjoyment of The Deep. I was already a fan of Katsu after reading The Hunger, and The Deep has further emphasised the quality of her writing. I am eagerly looking forward to more of her work.