Friday, July 26, 2013

Pass It On - A review of Ships that pass in the night

Though it is probably not a well known book, but certainly one worth the trouble, Ships That Pass in the Night was Beatrice Harraden’s first published work. A kind of unconventional love story, the novel makes use of humorous occurrences as well as dramatic moments, to bring it’s characters to life. Firstly, a quick summary after the jump.

The story follows Bernadine, a newcomer to Petershof, a resthome for people of various illnesses (though mostly TB) who spend most of their days inside or on the grounds of the estate. She meets a number of people, most notably Robert Allitson, nicknamed ‘the disagreeable man’ whom she becomes acquainted with. Though their relationship is far from normal, both became entrigued by one another and Bernadine soon realizes that there this man has much more going for him than he lets on.

If it weren’t for several well placed comedic points, the novel would be extremely crunchy and I probably would not have enjoyed it as much as I eventually did. The story, which I started calling an anti-love story, is well written and engaging. The disagreeable man’s nickname is well given; he is extremely unlikable and I wondered what Bernadine actually saw in him. The only times he comes off as compassionate is when he leaves Petershof and goes Loschwitz, a small village, where he visits a family he has been to many times before and who know him well. Suddenly he’s much nicer and an all around good guy, which makes me thing that the resthome is actually making him worse than it is making him better. There are several other relationships that I thought were of importance. Bernadine spends time with Mr. Reffold, a man who is very ill and whose wife spends more time gossiping about the grounds than taking care of her husband. Bernadine takes it upon herself to care for the man in his final days. In some ways, this relationship is much more rewarding than the one she has with the disagreeable man. Another relationship is that of warli, a mail boy and marie, a maid. Though Warli is in love with marie, he is afraid that she does not feel the same way about him, yet even this relationship if friendly flirting seems healthier than the one between Bernadine and Robert. 

The resthome, which seems more like a final resting-home in many instances, is in my opinion a metaphor for the novels relationships. Like the people who suffer and eventually die, relationships in the story do not have much luck either. Like ships that pass in the night, they go by unnoticed and no one is better of because of it. It’s not a happy story by any means. By the end I was pretty much in a What the fuck mood, but it’s still a nice story because it reminds me that there is not always a happy ending for everyone, try as they might, and because of that, even the little victories should be enjoyed to the extreme.

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