The Deep was one of my most eagerly awaited reads of 2020 as I loved the author’s previous novel, The Hunger. I’m sure it is my own fault for having such high expectations, but while I liked the novel, I didn’t love it.
Someone, or something, is haunting the Titanic.
Deaths and disappearances have plagued the vast liner from the moment she began her maiden voyage on 10 April 1912. Four days later, caught in what feels like an eerie, unsettling twilight zone, some passengers – including millionaire Madeleine Astor and maid Annie Hebbley – are convinced that something sinister is afoot. And then disaster strikes.
Four years later and the world is at war. Having survived that fateful night, Annie is now a nurse on board the Titanic’s sister ship, the Britannic, now refitted as a hospital ship. And she is about to realise that those demons from her past and the terrors of that doomed voyage have not finished with her yet…
Bringing together Faustian pacts, the occult, tales of sirens and selkies with themes of guilt and revenge, desire and destiny, The Deep offers a thrilling, tantalising twist on one of the world’s most famous tragedies.
The Deep alternates between 1912 and that fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic and 1916 where Annie Hebbley, having survived her time aboard the Titanic, boards the Britannic to serve as a nurse during the First World War. While set four years apart, it’s clear that times have changed significantly, and the two narratives contrast brilliantly as the reader sees the decadence of the Titanic compared to the Britannic, originally decked out in similar finery, but now pared back for use as a hospital ship and the transport of injured soldiers. While the two journeys are very different, there are also similarities, not least the presence of Annie and her friend, Victoria Jessop, who both served as maids on the Titanic, and who are now supporting the war effort as nurses aboard the Britannic. The reader is also conscious of the fate of both vessels, and I was intrigued to see what twist Katsu would apply to the narrative.
Annie is an interesting character. The novel opens in 1916 with Annie in an asylum. It soon becomes clear that she is there of her own volition, and this immediately raises questions for the reader. Is it the result of her experiences on the Titanic, or is there another reason for her voluntary stay in an asylum? The narrative then skips back in time and we see Annie four years earlier as the Titanic prepares for the boarding of its passengers. The reader gradually learns more about her past and growing up in Ireland, and the circumstances that caused her to seek employment on the Titanic. Working as a stewardess to the first-class passengers on the Titanic, she becomes a little infatuated with Mark Fletcher and his baby daughter, Ondine, although when seen through the eyes of the passengers, this infatuation comes across as obsessive. As the main protagonist, it’s clear that Annie will be caught up in the events as they unfold, although what role she has to play doesn’t become clear until much later.
Katsu has clearly done her research, and successfully evokes the opulence of the Titanic, particularly for those travelling in first class. Katsu has included real passengers aboard the ship, spinning her fictionalisation of events around those individuals, bolstered by a few characters from her imagination. The history of the Titanic is overlaid with an intriguing tale of the supernatural, and I loved the myth and folklore that Katsu has woven into narrative as an alternative reason for the fate of these two ships. With spiritualism still being in favour at the time, the séance held by a group of first-class passengers and their attempts to summon spirits adds to this uncomfortable atmosphere, as do other strange happenings aboard the vessel.
The sense of foreboding is strong from the beginning of the novel, although I think that for me this was at least partly due to the ultimate outcome for these two ships being well known. I liked the novel, and I think that the narrative that Katsu has woven around these events worked, but it just didn’t provide that sense of creeping horror that I so enjoyed in The Hunger.