The sinking of the Titanic remains a fixture of horror in cultural memory, and as such, finding new ways to tell that story is a growing challenge. With The Deep, acclaimed author of 2018’s The Hunger, Alma Katsu, rises to and surpasses the challenge, weaving a page-turning, haunting tale that breathes fresh life into a tragic moment in time.
Narratively bridging the gap in time between the Titanic and its sister ship, the Britannic, The Deep shifts focus from the fateful days on-board the former ship, while visiting troubled times on-board the latter a handful of years later. Annie Hebbley, an Irishwoman with a troubling, uncertain past, serves as a maid on board the Titanic tending to the wealthy and is soon caught up in a whirlwind of increasingly alarming circumstances. A servant boy dies. Rumours begin to fly: the ship must be haunted. Annie is assigned to serve the Fletcher family, an experience that becomes emotionally fraught as her own emotional involvement with Mark unfolds. Annie, a survivor by nature, lives beyond the sinking of the Titanic, later serving as a nurse tending to wounded soldiers from World War I on board the Britannic. But even when she thinks she is free, the past refuses to stay buried.
Katsu’s talent for writing page-turning horror, along with her attention to historic detail, shines in The Deep, with a strong cast of characters, including the incredibly wealthy Astors and Benjamin Guggenheim, each individual embroiled in their own personal and spiritual drama. Without going into spoiler territory, there are also a number of character-specific romantic details that make this a delightfully inclusive read.
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Additionally, the author’s focus on historic detail highlights the eerie intersection of burgeoning industry with spiritualism and the prescription of cocaine as a medical treatment. These cultural and historic factors touch the lives of several of the characters, even while out at sea. These same moments also provide genuine pause, prompting reflection on what we are believing and consuming now that might be seen as equally horrific within the next century.
The flow of the story remained clear and compelling, transitions between times and ships made clear. Katsu’s decision to interweave the stories of the Titanic and Britannic – tying them more closely together than they already were in different ways – makes for a compelling, mirrored story that interrogates the restrictions of time itself. The contrast between such a character-driven story against the imminent crisis of the Titanic’s sinking also makes for an interesting juxtaposition, functioning as a reflection that even though we all must face death, there is a story yet to be lived and written before that day arrives.
Roughly half the time Katsu’s narrative dive into the world of Irish mythology yielded results that flowed smoothly with the story, but there are several instances where these details felt disconnected. This disconnection might have been addressed by bringing Annie’s Irish ancestry more to bear: there are a handful of moments where she recalls a memory or a story a loved one told her, but that remains largely the extent to which this part of her past and identity are explored. The dive into Irish mythology remains a core part of the narrative, but the lack of additional development leads to a somewhat disconnected ending, at least partially, and the pacing of the conclusion itself was also drawn out a touch too long.
Despite this, The Deep makes for a thoroughly engrossing read for horror and history fanatics alike, with the focus on horror, as with Katsu’s previous novel, bringing a fresh perspective to a familiar and tragic event.
The Deep by Alma Katsu is published by Bantam Press.