Thoughts on David Dyer’s: “The Midnight Watch”

The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the CalifornianThe Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the beginning and the ending of this novel. It lags a little in the middle. The book is heavy on research. For me, the novel suspends the main question that drives the narrative for too many pages: the question “why didn’t the Californian (ship) go to the Titanic’s aid?” The answer to the “why” question is compelling and dramatic, but I almost see that answer as a kind of beginning to the drama rather than the ending. In some ways, this is an investigative narrative–a kind of murder mystery that explores the motivations of a ship-wide sin of omission (on the Californian). We are searching for who to blame and why we would blame them. There is a surprising section toward the end of the book in which Dyer goes back and forth between the Titanic and the Californian in 8 parts (one section for each of the distress rockets that the Titanic fired on that fateful night) and constructs scenes to depict how the night might have played out for the crew of the Californian and for one particular family aboard the Titanic. It is devastating and powerful and is probably the most dramatic section of the book. That section begins and ends like a novella that could almost stand on its own. Some of the drama depends on the investigation the novel has built up until then. I have a hunch that this section was the original graduate thesis Dyer mentions in an end note, and the rest of the book was written later to fill out the shorter piece for the purposes of publication. With all this in mind, “The Midnight Watch” is still an exploration of the Titanic disaster that feels fresh, and even necessary.

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