The Last Cruise
From the acclaimed PEN-Faulkner Award-winning author of The Great Man comes a riveting high-seas adventure that combines Christensen’s signature wit, irony, and humanity to create a striking and unforgettable vision of our times.
The 1950s vintage ocean liner Queen Isabella is making her final voyage before heading to the scrapyard. For the guests on board, among them Christine Thorne, a former journalist turned Maine farmer, it’s a chance to experience the bygone mid-20th century era of decadent luxury cruising, complete with fine dining, classic highballs, string quartets, and sophisticated jazz. Smoking is allowed but not cell phones–or children, for that matter. The Isabella sets sail from Long Beach, CA into calm seas on a two-week retro cruise to Hawaii and back.
But this is the second decade of an uncertain new millennium, not the sunny, heedless fifties, and certain disquieting signs of strife and malfunction above and below decks intrude on the festivities. Down in the main galley, Mick Szabo, a battle-weary Hungarian executive sous-chef, watches escalating tensions among the crew. Meanwhile, Miriam Koslow, an elderly Israeli violinist with the Sabra Quartet, becomes increasingly aware of the age-related vulnerabilities of the ship herself and the cynical corners cut by the cruise ship company, Cabaret.
When a time of crisis begins, Christine, Mick, and Miriam find themselves facing the unknown together in an unexpected and startling test of their characters.
Entertaining and elegantly written… Kate Christensen demonstrates there’s life to be found in what may appear to be the creakiest of fictional premises… [She] is a sharp observer, not only of the layered social world of the Queen Isabella but of the shifting relationships between her characters…I kept thinking of Barbara Pym, another novelist who wrote astute novels about contained worlds. Like Pym — who has been described as the most under-rated writer of the 20th century — Christensen is easy to misjudge, but, as she demonstrates in The Last Cruise she’s quite capable of navigating deep waters.
Excellent… Above deck are wealthy vacationers dining on caviar and Lobster Thermidor. But below, conditions are hardly different from a Third World factory. Christensen gamely traverses both worlds in this waterborne upstairs-downstairs drama.
Brilliant… The Last Cruise moves swiftly, with welcome bits of dark humor (after disaster strikes, someone’s first question is whether there’ll be a midnight buffet that evening) and vivid character detail… Is it a literary thriller, or a novel that just happens to contain some thriller elements? Either way, it reads just fine.
[A]n exciting story of human nature, love at all ages and in the face of insurmountable difficulties.
Christensen weaves a diverse cast of characters, each from a detailed and highly sensual world, into a grip-your-seat plot in this important, enlightening, highly contemporary book about a world that hangs on the edge of something bigger than all of us. A must-read for our times.
From the first page of THE LAST CRUISE, it’s clear that you’re in the hands of a masterful storyteller. With wit and precision, Kate Christensen wrangles a large cast of characters on a cruise to Hawaii, deftly turning what appears to be a comedy of manners into an intimate and moving story about how human beings relate to each other in times of stress and upheaval — with plenty of sensuous details about food, sex, and drink along the way. This novel is a delight.
Kate Christensen’s novels hit that sweet spot between beach read and literary fiction….The Last Cruise can be read as an analogy to our complex political present—the haves and have-nots divided on a floating world with a selfish wealthy owner that flies off as soon as disaster strikes. But it can also be enjoyed as a darkly humorous comedy of manners, with a diverse cast of characters and enough details about sex, food and drink to satisfy any reader.
This sly novel begins as a casual romp and then heads inexorably into darker territory. The book steadily gains power as the boat loses its, and the portrayal of a small society on the edge of chaos is haunting. Christensen has crafted a Ship of Fools for an era of environmental concerns and social unrest.
The Last Cruise is Kate Christensen’s first work of fiction in years…and it does not disappoint. In her tale of a harrowing voyage at sea, she weaves together a perfect microcosm of the world today – overwhelming greed paired with selflessness and community; tribalism at its worst, and humanity at its best. At times hysterical, at times heartbreaking, her writing is second to none. This is a book that lingers with you long after you’ve finished reading.
Christensen is a master at drawing us into the interior lives of her characters, toeing the line between satire and sympathy… comedy and humiliation… Having gathered these disparate people together, Christensen gently rolls and pitches the stage, dislodging stones of sadness that had been safely stuck in the crevices of their everyday lives. That discombobulation is the key to the story’s appeal, its unstable mix of romantic comedy, class oppression and spiritual angst — as though Cynthia Ozick wrote an episode of “The Love Boat.” Christensen also deconstructs the aura of the cruise ship… Mysterious and existential… She’s interested in the most intimate and profound changes we’re willing to make only when tossed by the tempest of life.
Excellent…The Last Cruise plays out a lot like a ’50s disaster movie, and that’s a good thing. It’s a tremendously entertaining novel that never asks readers to turn their brains off — there’s plenty of slow-burn suspense, but it doesn’t come at the expense of unrealistic characters, which is a trade-off many authors are too willing to take… [Christensen] inhabits all of her characters beautifully… The Last Cruise is a captivating voyage.
‘The Love Boat’ meets ‘Lord of the Flies’… Here you are on a two-week cruise from California to Hawaii on the elegant, 1950s-era Queen Isabella… Readers of novels know very well that such extravagant expectations are likely to be exploded, and The Last Cruise deftly obliges. Christensen, author of such fine novels as “The Great Man” and “The Epicure’s Lament,” escorts us on this cruise via three very different protagonists. This is the final cruise for the aging Isabella [a]nd for each of the three main characters, the trip signals both endings and possibilities… Christensen maneuvers adroitly among these various conundrums while highlighting her characters’ strengths and flaws.
In The Last Cruise Kate Christensen has given us a smart literary thriller whose ambitions extend well beyond its genre. It’s terrifying in ways you don’t expect.
Kate Christensen has written a tale that is not just a gleefully nightmarish cruise, but a keenly observed microcosm of our disintegrating society and planet. You the reader are SO glad not to be on the Queen Isabella, but you find yourself there – and you hang on with grim delight. Wincingly real and blackly funny all at once.
A smart, fast-paced adventure story, two poignant love stories, and a shrewd and chilling warning to us all. What’s not to love about this novel?
[A] wry and ebullient, gradually catastrophic ship-of-fools-tail…Christensen’s gripping and insightful novel dramatizes with stealth and daring the dangerous contrariness of human nature
[In] an entertaining mashup of Ship of Fools and Titanic, Christensen chronicles the intersecting human tragicomedies above- and belowdeck during a luxury liner’s farewell Hawaiian cruise.
Christensen delivers another engrossing tale rich in character and social mores that reveals the fragile veneer of civilization.