It took me three tries to finally get into this book, but it was so worth it. The Midnight Watch is a fine work, carefully crafted and rich with images and emotion. Dyer sticks closely to the known and the facts, and these inform the book with poignancy and immediacy.
Over here is the Californian caught up in the frigid darkness and a treacherous ice field, stopped, telegraphing to alert other ships to the danger. Over there is the new and renowned cruise liner telling them to shut up, shut up, shut up, they have passenger messages to send out. Everyone on the Californian goes to bed, leaving their Midnight Watchers to the cold and dark. Everyone on the Titanic wakes up to peril and bitter death.
I originally gave it five stars, but after thinking about it for a week, I lowered it to four. Maybe 4.5. The main character just never became vivid nor central enough for me. Other characters felt out of focus and changing, as if subject to unknown currents. But the sea and the sky are so real and vivid. They feel seductive and dangerous and hard and intense and so much else. “The stillness pressed in…the ice seemed to suck everything from the world.” Daylight brings “a torrent of white light,” a “burning, unforgiving light.” Sunshine becomes a masterful literary device, torturing the vulnerable guilty parties.
This will be an excellent choice for book groups, who will be able to discuss the literary devices expertly wielded in the book, as well as the many issues that arise. The carelessness exposed by this account is breathtaking, even when one knows that radio communication was in its infancy. The lack of oversight and attention to the life boats and evacuation are a glaring contrast to our own overly reactive, overly protective culture. The interplay between the captain’s cold character and the weakness of the third officer are great for discussing how we affect those around us, for good or bad.
Even though it has no love story, no war, only sunshine, tragedy, and cold darkness, this story is one for the ages. “The midnight watch: a time of loneliness, demons and trances.” ~ Tessa 4.5 out of 5 Stars August 2016