cover image Psalm at Journey's End

Psalm at Journey's End

Erik Fosnes Hansen. Farrar Straus Giroux, $24 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-374-23868-1

Skilled research and impressionistic prose are expertly mixed into a poetic, absorbing story in Norwegian writer Hansen's second novel (his first to be published here). As in the recent Maiden Voyage by Cynthia Bass, the stage is set on the doomed Titanic's voyage from Southampton in April 1912. Hansen's characters are the band musicians, celebrated in Titanic lore, who continued playing as the ship went down. Rather than speculate about the actual people, whose names and lives are known, he has invented characters assembled from diverse parts of Britain, Russia and the continent. The complex past of five of these musicians is woven into the tale of the fateful crossing. These are men drowning in emotional turbulence and desolation, a metaphorical foreshadowing of their actual fate. Their stories are ablaze with the drama of love gone awry and talents not fully realized, but Hansen also uses them to speculate on the larger themes of responsibility and fate, reason and faith. He writes with fierce energy, creating emotional landscapes that may make one think of the evocative scenes and brilliant colors of Turner paintings. In all, it's a brilliant piece of storytelling. (Aug.)