23 March 2012

Review: Hearts that Survive by Yvonne Lehman

Lydia Beaumont is travelling from London to New York on the Titanic, accompanied by her fiance, John Ancell, and Craven Dowd, an employee of her father - and the man her father wants her to marry. But Lydia is hiding a secret. She is pregnant with John’s child, the result of one night that went too far, despite them both having a Christian faith. Together with her friend, Caroline Chadwick, she plans a historic wedding on the unsinkable ship.

So, less than one chapter in, I had a feeling I could see where this plot was going (well, they are on the Titanic!). I was partly right, and partly wrong. Yes, the ship sank, and John Astor has died three times this week in three different books. But in the end, Hearts That Survivedidn't go anything like how I expected. I was expecting a standard Christian romance story that covered a few months in time or a year at most. Instead I got a much deeper story that covered decades. I admit I overlooked the Amazon product description that used words like ‘epic’ and 'decades later’, indicating a longer timeframe. My excuse is that I didn’t want to come into the book with any preconceived ideas, and I feel justified now I do look at the Amazon listing, because the two aspects of the plot summary occur fifty years apart, which is one of my pet hates as it could be considered a bit of a spoiler…

Lehman has a unique ability to capture the nuances of emotion in her writing, to change her style and tone to reflect the emotions of her characters. This made for difficult reading at times, particularly in the passages after the sinking, when both women were coping with their grief in their own way. The scene inside the ship as she went down was beautifully and sensitively written, with a sad nobility that reminded me of the scene where the Towers come down in Kingsbury's 9/11 novel, One Tuesday Morning. The sinking scenes themselves were confusing, with too many people, too many points of view. But even this gave it a sense of realism, particularly as some scenes showed men and women at their most noble, and others behaving in quite the opposite manner.

After the tragedy, the tone of the writing changes, with subtle differences between Lydia and Caroline's points of view highlighting the differences between them. Frankly, I found the portions from Lydia’s point of view to be depressing. Craven was controlling and manipulative at a time when Lydia did not have the strength to stand up to him, and I didn’t like that, either. So, overall, this was not a novel I particularly enjoyed. The story dragged too much in places, some of the word choices felt out of place, the story changed focus from Lydia to Caroline, and parts of it were confusing with too many characters. But underneath all that, Hearts That Survive has some brilliant writing with some profound spiritual insights, which I appreciated.

For example, at one point, Caroline is thinking that “Out there, she’d seen hundreds and hundreds and hundreds calling on God and Jesus to save them. He didn’t.” This made me think, because it seems so out of character for a Christian novel. I decided Caroline was wrong. God did save them. But we, as humans, often confuse the physical with the eternal. He has promised to save all who believe and call upon Him, just as He has promised us healing. But not all of these promises are fulfilled in this mortal life. God may not have saved the bodies of those crying out to Him, but he did save them, just as He saves those who cry out to Him today.

What do you think?

Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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