Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review: Seven Days in May

Title: Seven Days in May
Author: Kim Izzo
Publisher: 2 May 2017 by Harper 360
Pages: 356 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: womens fiction, historical fiction, world war I
My Rating: 5 cups


For readers of Kate Williams, Beatriz Williams and Jennifer Robson, a captivating novel of love and resilience during the Great War, inspired by the author’s family history.

As the First World War rages in continental Europe, two New York heiresses, Sydney and Brooke Sinclair, are due to set sail for England. Brooke is engaged to marry impoverished aristocrat Edward Thorpe-Tracey, the future Lord Northbrook, in the wedding of the social calendar. Sydney has other adventures in mind; she is drawn to the burgeoning suffragette movement, which is a constant source of embarrassment to her proper sister. As international tempers flare, the German embassy releases a warning that any ships making the Atlantic crossing are at risk. Undaunted, Sydney and Brooke board the Lusitania for the seven-day voyage with Edward, not knowing that disaster lies ahead.

In London, Isabel Nelson, a young woman grateful to have escaped her blemished reputation in Oxford, has found employment at the British Admiralty in the mysterious Room 40. While she begins as a secretary, it isn’t long before her skills in codes and cyphers are called on, and she learns a devastating truth and the true cost of war.

As the days of the voyage pass, these four lives collide in a struggle for survival as the Lusitania meets its deadly fate.

My Thoughts

This book was such an unexpected surprise - I was enthralled from cover to cover. It incorporated so much and so well, that I found each and every aspect engaging - and there are many. This is what historical fiction is all about - transporting you to another time and place, and on this occasion, from war torn London to the deck of a ship doomed for tragedy.

‘... received anonymous telegrams warning them not to sail on the Lusitania because “she was doomed,” the implication being the great ship was going to be torpedoed.’

Firstly you have the tale of the Lusitania. I consider myself a fairly well read historian but the light Izzo sheds on some facts here is heart-rending. Firstly let’s just consider how well she has written to take such an established story (we all know the ship is doomed) and make it into a page turning travesty. The sinking of the ship is so vivid, in fact quite graphic, that images from James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ immediately spring to mind. And knowing that it’s all true, is gut wrenching: of the 1959 passengers who sailed that fateful day, only 764 survived, of 33 babies on board only 6 survived. Some of the conspiracy theories are raised, the main one focussing around, “Does Churchill want the Germans to target a neutral ship just to get the Americans to join the war?”

‘Churchill would use it to lure the Americans into the conflict. Somehow in Isabel’s mind she thought that if she intercepted a message at the right time then she could prevent tragedy. What was the purpose of breaking codes if they couldn’t be used to save lives?’

Secondly there is the role of women during this period of time. Everything from women’s political rights, to reproductive rights, to Isabel and her working rights in the light of an extra-matrimonial affair. Isabel is such an interesting character and her role in ‘Room 40’ - the top secret office set on breaking through codes for the British Admiralty office - and her quest and concern is honourable to the very end.

‘Ever since she had transcribed the ship’s name on the target list she felt responsible for it.’

Then there is the fall of the English aristocracy and the investment of American dollars to keep them afloat. What were people prepared to do for their manor or a title? The high-life of American heiresses and stories of the rich and famous, that would eventually go down with the ship, are recounted here. Izzo gives you  a true indication of the stark contrasts between how the rich compared to steerage passengers fared in the first few days of this luxury liner sailing.

‘Her sister belonged in a world that was fading from fashion only she was too immersed in it to see it. The European penchant for titles and class was on the edge of collapse; the war was going to see to that.’

‘He was caught between ideology and tradition, needs and wants, morality and duty. His honesty, however, was not for sale.’

Overall what you have here is a rich historical tale of two really strong female leads who are intelligent and inspirational in many ways. The writing is so engaging - I can smell the cigarette smoke in Room 40 and feel the sea breeze aboard the Lusitania - Izzo does it so well. The depth of research and integration with fiction is truly commendable - it’s real and authentic through and through. The alternating tale between what happens on board ship, with real time what happens behind the scenes at Whitehall and the Admiralty is engrossing. The final scenes of the torpedo and sinking of the ship are indeed harrowing and gut wrenching.  

“The Lusitania ... not only are they the most luxurious and safest transatlantic passenger liners in the world, they also have the capacity to become the fastest and most powerful armed cruisers in the war, should the need arise.”

I couldn't put this book down and highly recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction.

“We need to forget what happened and move on. We had seven wonderful days together ... let that be enough.”

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

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