The Ship of Brides - Jojo Moyes

I think I am pretty late to the table finding this author; many people reading this were probably familiar with her previous works. I have some of her other books on my to-read pile, but I was excited by this premise, and intrigued to find it was based on a real event. Maybe it’s me, but I was amazed to learn that the British government brought 600 war brides to London on an aircraft carrier at the end of World War II. Apparently it was not a random occurrence, war brides were reunited with soldiers all over the place following different wars, but this one I think was unique because of the conditions of passage, on an aircraft carrier versus a more luxurious liner. Of course, many of these brides barely knew their husbands, so their bravery in leaving the home they knew, at the risk of a telegram that baldly states “Not wanted, don’t come” is compelling. I have read so many books on this war that I am always pleased to find one that tells a completely new story.

 

In the beginning, to my skeptical eye, it seemed a little like Gilligan’s Island the way this group was outfitted for the trip – definitely some MaryAnns, Gingers and Mrs. Howells among those many passengers. That is not necessarily a criticism, just a first impression. Moyes’ level of detail and characterization eventually brought what could have been a cast of stereotypes to life for me. Couldn’t resist though the continuous mental comparisons to old TV shows: McHale’s Navy, and Hogan’s Heroes came to mind, and sometimes even Petticoat Junction. Who’s with me on this? For some reason, during the lighter parts, I wanted to utter the phrase, “Ahh, the high jinks” out loud.

 

Having recently toured a naval submarine, I appreciated the precise descriptions of the crew’s tight quarters aboard the ship. I also enjoyed the tension between the men of the crew and these brides, and the anxiety caused when the women entered (and wrecked havoc on) this previously male domain. There were light moments, but these were tempered with gravity appropriate to the historic nature of the story.

 

My only real complaint is with some deliberately misleading passages that purport to allude to the outcome of the story. Honestly, I felt like I missed something at the end, and scrambled back to reread the parts to understand how I was thrown off. When I did, I realized it was a red herring, but that it was not only misleading, but a deliberate lie. I kind of think it was an attempt to make a predictable ending less so, but that was an unnecessary disconnect for me – sometimes I like a happy ending, no strings attached.

 

Having said that, this book read like a classic to me, along the lines of a more grown up Little Women or Betsy Tacy. Moyes’ story is well-researched and told with a nostalgia that is at once light-hearted and moving.