Ireland, 1912. Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.
Chicago, 1982. Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about the Titanic that she’s harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.
I had a very mixed response to reading The Girl Who Came Home because there were parts of the book that I thought were very well written and other parts not so much. The biggest flaw in the book for me was the fact this is supposed to be Maggie’s story and while she does relate the events in much of the chapters, either through third person narrative or diary entries, a large chunk of the story is given over to the viewpoints of other characters like Harry, the third-class steward. Since this story is supposed to be based on Maggie’s memories, the events should have been solely related to her experiences as she can’t possibly know what all those other people were doing. It seems to me the author wanted to include as many different versions of what happened that night as she could which would’ve been fine if she hadn’t chosen to have it as Maggie’s story.
There are so many stories and dramatisations surrounding the sinking of the Titanic, it’s hard to find anything new to say but the author chooses to concentrate on third-class passengers in steerage, particularly those from the same village in Ireland. While Ballysheen is a fictitious village, the travellers are based on the real Addergoole Fourteen who left County Mayo in April 1912 to start a new life in America. Out of the fourteen villagers, only three survived the sinking, including seventeen-year old Annie McGowan who is the inspiration behind Maggie.
While I knew there were many Irish onboard, I had no idea so many were lost from the same village and after reading the website which tells their story, it is easy to understand why the author was so captivated by their experiences. It is obvious the author has done a lot of research and has tried to incorporate much of the Addergoole Fourteen’s story as she can but she tries to throw in even the tiniest of details and it all gets a little too heavy-handed, particularly in regard to the doom filled forecasts.
For me, the chapters dealing with the aftermath were where this book really came into its own and I got quite emotional when the news of the disaster began to filter through and panicked relatives sought information on their loved ones. The chapters about Frances Kenny’s search for her sister, Katie, one of the Ballysheen fourteen, are particularly poignant, although they really shouldn’t be part of Maggie’s story. The writing was a touch too sentimental at various points but I think those chapters are probably the ones that will stick in my mind more than anything else. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book concentrating on the aftermath of the disaster, in regard to how the White Star Line tried to keep the survivors quiet about what really happened and this could’ve been an interesting thread to follow.
The chapters dealing with the disaster are interspersed with how Maggie’s life is seventy years in the future, but far too much of the focus is on her great-granddaughter, Grace, who has withdrawn from life after the death of her father. I suppose Maggie’s story is supposed to be the inspiration Grace needs to start living her life again but it just distracted from the main plot. After Maggie survives, we are told next to nothing about what happened to her over the intervening years so it feels like a huge gap in Maggie’s story but there is a neat twist when we learn who Maggie eventually married but it is easy to guess so falls a little flat.
I think I would’ve enjoyed this book far more if it had been more of a straightforward telling of the Addergoole Fourteen’s experiences on the voyage and the aftermath for those who survived, along with the impact on the village rather than just concentrating on Maggie on her own.