Thursday, April 16, 2015

Historical Reads: Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes (2005).
Call #: Fiction Moyes (Adult New Books)
Find it in the catalog! 

I've been a big fan of British author Jojo Moyes's previous books including Me Before You and The Last Letter from Your Lover.  She writes smart, thoughtful and funny women's fiction, often times with a historical component.  One of the nice things about her growing popularity stateside is that several of her older works are now being widely published, including The Ship of Brides!

Set just after World War II and based loosely off of real events, this book follows the journey of 650 war brides from their native Australia to England to be reunited with their British husbands.  The brides travel aboard the HMS Victoria, a war ship, and are accompanied by over a thousand British naval officers.  The book primarily focuses on four women who share a cabin on this voyage. 

Maggie is a heavily pregnant farm girl who was raised by her father and is generally used to being surrounded by men.  Because she is a tomboy, she has no problem making friends with some of the men on the ship (in spite of the strict rules about fraternizing between the soldiers and the brides). She also has a warm personality and brings together the four roommates in spite their very diverse backgrounds.  Out of the roommates, Maggie has had the longest relationship with her husband, Joe. 

Avice is probably the least immediately likeable character.  She's a snooty and spoiled society girl who is unhappy with the conditions of her voyage, hoping to be on a cruise liner instead of a war ship.  She finds the other three girls to below her preferred station of friends, but it still somewhat fond of Maggie.

Jean is a teenage bride.  She is quite immature and always trying to have a good time. She knew Avice before the trip, and much to Avice's dismay, winds up sharing a cabin with her.  Jean comes from a more working class background than Avice and her love of partying sometimes gets her in trouble.

Finally, Francis was a war nurse with a mysterious past.  Francis is incredibly shy and tends to keep to herself, despite encouragement from Maggie and Jean.  She says very little about her past or the man she is married to, but acts as a strong advocate for Jean when she gets in trouble.  Because of her medical skills, she is also of assistance on the war ship.

As one might expect, despite very strict rules and punishments, there is still quite of bit of mischief between the brides and the soldiers, with much higher stakes for the brides.  As some brides begin to receive "Not Wanted, Don't Come" telegrams from their husbands, tensions begin to run high among the women on the ship.  Their is also a very sweet, Austen-esque romance between one of the women and a naval officer. 

I really liked the book, but had one minor quibble.  Avice is a pretty annoying character and it's easy to see where her plot line is going.  That said, she was a good foil for the rest of the girls, in particular Francis, who has the most compelling narrative.  Overall, this was a very enjoyable read about a little known part of history.