As you can well imagine, I bought this book because I liked the cover. True to form, my cover-sense was spot on.
Jojo Moyes takes us back to 1946. The war has ended, leaving thousands of women without the foreign husbands they married during wartime. Four women board the soon-to-be decommissioned warship the Victoria – spoilt daddy’s-girl Avice, enigmatic nurse Frances, warm-hearted farm girl Margaret and gobby sixteen-year old Jean. These four young women are to share a cabin deep in the bowels of a huge metal beast with a crew-full of sweaty marines and engineers. It made me feel claustrophobic just thinking about it.
Most of these women have never left their homes or their families before. Some are painfully young like Jean, some are pregnant like Margaret. All of them are voyaging into the unknown under the watchful, melancholy eye of Captain Highfield, a man who has seen the worst of battle and who faces the end of the war with trepidation as he ponders on the seeming impossibility of life on dry land.
What awaits the women on the other side of the ocean? Often a husband married in haste, an unknown mother-in-law and a life that is completely foreign to them. For some, the dreaded telegram halfway across the ocean: Not Wanted. Do Not Come.
For her part, Jojo Moyes handles these women’s lives carefully. The book could have easily strayed into sentimentality but I thought it stayed on the right side of moving. You really get the sense of how terrifying it must have been, voyaging into the virtual unknown like that – especially when Australia was so much further away than it is today – many of the women had to accept that they may never see their families again.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot since I highly recommend this book. The characters and their stories are page-turning stuff. Perfect for bed, bus, beach or bath, The Ship of Brides is bittersweet and charming. Jojo Moyes really brings the women of the Victoria to life.