Brian Murphy’s Adrift is a tale of 18th-century high-seas shipwreck and survival that is exhaustingly researched, yet told with the urgency of a good thriller. In January of 1856 the packet ship John Rutledge is scheduled to sail from Liverpool to New York City, but midway in her journey, an iceberg tears into her hull. Murphy focuses his narrative on the stories of Captain Alexander Kelley, the Hendersons, an Irish immigrant family, and sailor Thomas Nye, the lone survivor. From embarking in Liverpool to the ice piercing the ship to the days spent stranded in the lifeboats, Murphy places us with the crew and passengers every step of the way.
The author’s research covers a virtual compendium of all things nautical in the mid-1800s. Colorful details include, among other things: the history of sea-going vessels and particularly the Rutledge herself, the commerce of trans-Atlantic shipping and passenger lines, key anecdotes of prior shipwrecks, and the life of a sailor at port and out at sea. The author takes several opportunities to make comparisons to modern times to help the reader understand the setting and the ways of Victorian era life. While tangents may stray a little too far off the main narrative focus at times, Murphy always strikes a readable tone, and his digressions are interspersed in the narrative so well that you don’t even realize that you’re learning something.
Overall, Adrift is worthy of praise and deserves to be placed next to books like Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, Lansing’s Endurance, and Zuckoff’s Frozen in Time. The author’s note adds credibility and transparency to the writing process. The survivor gave us a detailed account of that perilous tragedy and Murphy added research and a careful hand to craft the story in this impressive book.
4 out of 5 stars
Comes out September 4th, 2018.
Thank you to NetGalley, Perseus Books, Da Capo Press, and Mr. Murphy for the advanced copy for review.