The Midnight Watch
Published in 2016, The Midnight Watch is a historical fiction novel by David Dyer, a former London lawyer who now writes and teaches in Sydney.
The novel is set in 1912 and takes place during and after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. We all know of this infamous ship that sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg. But not all of us know about the SS Californian: the closest ship to the Titanic while she was sinking, but failed to come to her assistance. If the Californian had come, many or perhaps all of the 1,500 people who died could have been saved.
Why didn’t the Californian come to Titanic’s assistance? This is what John Steadman, a fictional American journalist, endeavours to find out. It turns out that Herbert Stone, the Californian’s Third Officer, saw the Titanic firing distress rockets on the horizon from midnight onwards, and he wasn’t the only one. The Californian’s captain, Stanley Lord, was notified, but didn’t issue any orders until 5am the next morning, when it was too late (the Titanic sunk at 2:20am). Lord’s explanation as to why he didn’t go to Titanic’s rescue immediately changed over time, and Steadman finds that pages from the Californian’s log had been torn out. This motivates him to discover the truth, no matter what.
The novel is well-written and is historically accurate. It’s clear that Dyer heavily researched everything to do with the Titanic. In fact, he lifted quotes from original letters, witness statements, and inquiry testimonies, along with other primary documents, and used them in the novel’s dialogue. The story is told from multiple points of view, which I found jarring at first, but I quickly became accustomed to it.
The novel’s themes are easily identifiable. The main theme is perhaps truth versus point of view. The truth can easily be warped by people’s point of view. As Obi-Wan told Luke in Return of the Jedi: “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view”. This is certainly evident in Stanley Lord’s case, as his version of events confused many but obviously made sense to him.
But being a former journalism student, the theme that stood out to me the most was miscommunication. Early press reports in the immediate aftermath of the Titanic’s sinking gave false information. For example, it was thought at one stage that the Titanic, heavily damaged from the iceberg, was being towed to the nearest port by another ship. This obviously wasn’t the case. But back in 1912, they could only communicate using Morse code on one wireless frequency, so it was easy for information to become jumbled. Steadman came across as an admirable journalist, as he goes to extreme lengths to uncover the truth.
Despite being set in 1912, all the characters are believable in the sense they’re relatable and realistic. They are written as human beings, not as stereotypical twentieth century people who come across as two dimensional. They all suffer grief, internal conflict, anger, confusion – the list goes on!
I thoroughly enjoyed The Midnight Watch, and would strongly recommend it, especially to other history buffs.
Words by Callum J. Jones
Creative, honest, and reliable, Callum J. Jones loves writing fiction and non-fiction. In his spare time, he likes to read, watch movies and TV shows, and going on walks.
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