cover image The Titanic Survivors Book Club

The Titanic Survivors Book Club

Timothy Schaffert. Doubleday, $29 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-54915-8

In this lush and intricately researched historical, Schaffert (The Perfume Thief) brings together a varied cast who, despite having tickets for an Atlantic crossing aboard the Titanic, are prevented by circumstance from taking its fateful maiden voyage. The tale is narrated by Yorick, who runs a bookshop in Paris, and whom the White Star Line replaced at the last minute as steward of the second-class library aboard the doomed steamship, having learned he was distributing banned books. At the story’s center is a love triangle consisting of Yorick and two other would-be passengers who all meet when a Paris business owner calls them together as a publicity stunt: Zinnia, the striking mixed-race heir to her parents’ confectionary company; and the handsome Haze, a photographer who specializes in capturing the decay of historic Parisian buildings, and to whom Yorick is immediately drawn, seeing in the Oscar Wilde–like artist a secretly gay man like himself. When Haze enlists Yorick’s help in writing love letters to Zinnia, Yorick is devastated but complies, and they are all bonded by their shared brush with disaster. As Europe marches inexorably toward WWI, alliances shift among the three lovers and jealousies come to a head. The marvelous sensuous details—from the smells and feel of old books to the descriptions of Zinna’s candies and the veritable river of cognac, absinthe, wine, and Dutch gin—make this star-crossed lovers’ tale an absolute delight, and the underlying themes of book banning and suppressed sexuality resonate. Schaffert has outdone himself. Agent: Alice Tasman, Jean V. Naggar Literary. (Apr.)