The Ghost of the Mary Celeste: A Novel

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste: A Novel

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by Valerie Martin
     
 

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A captivating, atmospheric return to historical fiction that is every bit as convincing and engrossing as Martin's landmark Mary Reilly.

In 1872 the American merchant vessel Mary Celeste was discovered adrift off the coast of Spain. Her cargo was intact and there was no sign of struggle, but the crew was gone. They were never found.

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Overview

A captivating, atmospheric return to historical fiction that is every bit as convincing and engrossing as Martin's landmark Mary Reilly.

In 1872 the American merchant vessel Mary Celeste was discovered adrift off the coast of Spain. Her cargo was intact and there was no sign of struggle, but the crew was gone. They were never found.

This maritime mystery lies at the center of an intricate narrative branching through the highest levels of late-nineteenth-century literary society. While on a voyage to Africa, a rather hard-up and unproven young writer named Arthur Conan Doyle hears of the Mary Celeste and decides to write an outlandish short story about what took place. This story causes quite a sensation back in the United States, particularly between sought-after Philadelphia spiritualist medium Violet Petra and a rational-minded journalist named Phoebe Grant, who is seeking to expose Petra as a fraud. Then there is the family of the Mary Celeste's captain, a family linked to the sea for generations and marked repeatedly by tragedy. Each member of this ensemble cast holds a critical piece to the puzzle of the Mary Celeste.

These three elements—a ship found sailing without a crew, a famous writer on the verge of enormous success, and the rise of an unorthodox and heretical religious fervor—converge in unexpected ways, in diaries, in letters, in safe harbors and rough seas. In a haunted, death-obsessed age, a ghost ship appearing in the mist is by turns a provocative mystery, an inspiration to creativity, and a tragic story of the disappearance of a family and of a bond between husband and wife that, for one moment, transcends the impenetrable barrier of death.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - John Vernon
…a sly and masterly historical novel, a page-turner written with intelligence and flair. One way of constructing a novel that makes the whole seem larger than its parts is to variegate the parts—to employ multiple voices, styles and points of view, even interpolated genres, from poetry and court records to newspaper clippings, letters and diaries. Martin does all this and more, and the effect is striking. Her book becomes an omnium-gatherum, a mix-and-match scrapbook of journals, documents, narrative bridges and stories within stories. The result is a novel that feels both more and less real than a conventionally written work of fiction—more because of its historical provenance, less because we experience the story as if through shattered glass whose fragments can't be pieced back together.
Publishers Weekly
09/30/2013
Martin (Property) uses one of the most baffling maritime mysteries of all time as the starting point for a complex exploration of several different characters, including Arthur Conan Doyle. The melancholic and moving prologue, set in 1859, foreshadows the disaster that befalls a ship named Early Dawn. In 1872, the brig Mary Celeste, en route from New York to Genoa, is found floating at sea, no one aboard, and no real clues as to what happened to its crew of seven, including the captain, Benjamin Briggs; his wife; and his daughter. A decade later, Doyle, who has not yet created Sherlock Holmes, writes a fictional account of the ship’s fate, in which a lunatic passenger is responsible for a massacre of the others onboard. “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement” elicits strong reactions from those who knew the Briggs family. Martin is less concerned with exploring theories about what actually happened than in the repercussions of the baffling disappearances, in a manner that will remind some of the Australian writer Joan Lindsay. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
"[A] sly and masterly historical novel, a page-turner written with intelligence and flair. One way of constructing a novel that makes the whole seem larger than its parts is to variegate the parts — to employ multiple voices, styles and points of view, even interpolated genres, from poetry and court records to newspaper clippings, letters and diaries. Martin does all this and more, and the effect is striking." The New York Times Book Review

"Martin, who won Britain's Orange Prize for her historical novel Property, slips into the 19th century with the ease of a time traveler. Her period set pieces are superb. . . . The mystery remains, but thanks to Martin’s ingenuity, the narrative possibilities seem endless."The Boston Globe

"Fact and fiction meld so neatly that it seems as if every character is drawn from real life — a compliment to Martin's able research, psychological acuity and verbal finesse. Given such favorable winds, the novel — unlike the Mary Celeste — sails home with flying colors." The Seattle Times

"Valerie Martin is a writer of immense talent and insight. Her latest novel weaves a beautiful tale of loss, love, and the connections that link us. One moment we're aboard the doomed ship and another we're in the pages of a diary. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste offers readers a riveting cast and evocative prose." —Yann Martel

"Valerie Martin has written a splendid, mysterious and beautiful new novel. She writes about great ocean voyages and storms that tear apart both ships and hearts. She tells a seafaring tale in the tradition of Melville, and conjures up a mystery worthy of Arthur Conan Doyle, who actually appears as a character and plays a vital role. She writes about spiritualism with both clarity and skepticism, and in Violet Petra she has created a woman for the ages."—Pat Conroy

"The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is a wonderfully ingenious novel, compelling, convincing and exciting."—John Banville

"[A]long with a satisfying ghost story, [Martin] gives us the soil from which its central mystery grew. . . . [I]n a masterpiece of fine detail and intense reimagining, Martin evokes a world suspended between faith and reason, in which 'the other side' is quite real – and always beckoning." The Guardian

"[A]n unusual page turner." The Independent

Library Journal
★ 10/15/2013
In 1872, the sailing ship Mary Celeste was discovered off the coast of Africa fully equipped, fully intact, and uninhabited. The crew had disappeared forever, and the mystery has not been solved. Martin perches her story atop this truly fascinating tale, adding two additional strings from that time in history: self-professed spirit mediums were increasingly patronized by the wealthy, and a man named Arthur Conan Doyle was beginning to make his mark as a writer. With tales from the sea, there is always loss; with spiritualists, there is always skepticism; and with the creator of Sherlock Holmes, there are always surprising twists and turns. Populated with delicate women, strong women, and adventurous men, the seemingly disparate plotlines are skillfully woven together to create a novel that is well crafted, intriguing, and suspenseful, perhaps as a homage to Sir Conan Doyle himself. VERDICT Martin's seafaring story contains history, suspense, and heartbreak in equal measures as it slowly builds to an enigmatic conclusion. Highly recommended for all readers who appreciate quality historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 7/22/13.]—Susanne Wells, Indianapolis
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-19
Martin (The Confessions of Edward Day, 2009, etc.) offers a complex, imaginative version of historical fiction, playing literary hide-and-seek with the unsolved mystery surrounding an American cargo vessel found abandoned in the Azores in 1872. Martin follows a linear chronology. In 1860, Benjamin Briggs, who will become the Mary Celeste's captain, courts his cousin Sallie Cobb, somewhat to the chagrin of her younger sister Hannah, a spiritual rebel who drifts into reveries during which she has visions. In 1872, the ship is found seaworthy but abandoned, with no sign of the crew, the captain, or his wife and infant daughter, who accompanied him on the voyage. In 1884, Arthur Conan Doyle, a young doctor and aspiring author, writes a fictional (and racist) solution to the mystery of what happened to the Mary Celeste that is heavily colored by his own less than happy trip to Africa three years earlier. The story, which captures the public's imagination and launches his career, is assumed factual by many but not by Philadelphia medium Violet Petra, who readers will immediately realize is Hannah Cobb, who long ago ran away from home and assumed a new identity. Violet is being dogged by reporter Phoebe Grant, who initially wants to expose Violet as a Spiritualist fraud but finds the young woman more victim than victimizer. On an American tour in 1894, the now famous Conan Doyle meets Petra, and she impresses him with a message from his long-dead father. He invites her to London. She disappears en route but not before giving Phoebe a document that only complicates the mystery of what happened to the Mary Celeste. And really, that mystery is the least compelling element of a novel that sheds unromantic but not unsympathetic light on 19th-century New-Age spirituality and feminism while beaming a less sympathetic focus on brilliant but highly unlikable Conan Doyle. It is Violet, the lost soul, whom readers will not be able to forget. Martin has wound the disparate threads of her novel into a haunting personal drama.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385533508
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/28/2014
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

Meet the Author

VALERIE MARTIN is the author of nine novels, including Trespass, Italian Fever, The Great Divorce, Mary Reilly, and the 2003 Orange Prize-winning Property and of three collections of short fiction.

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The Ghost of the Mary Celeste: A Novel 1.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard to keep up with who was who. Story wasn't finished,left you hanging
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hyped by the NY Times as having some similarity to "Rebecca", this was a wandering description of the family aftermath of a ship lost at sea. The "sea" portion was probably less than 40 pages. I think the whole story could have been said in about 20 pages. Disappointed