…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 partsto 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 fictionmore because of its historical provenance, less because we experience the story as if through shattered glass whose fragments can't be pieced back together.
The New York Times Book Review - John Vernon
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.)
"[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."
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
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
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.