Ms. Christensen gamely traverses both worlds in this excellent waterborne upstairs-downstairs drama ... As Chekhov decreed, if a cruise ship is introduced in act one, half of its passengers must be sick from a gruesome intestinal virus by act five. Along with illness and walkouts, an engine fire strands the ship in the Pacific ... Ms. Christensen revels in the state of contained anarchy. The disasters shatter class lines and rearrange alliances. By the end the passengers are lucky to be eating Spam and power bars. Oh, the humanity!
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 ... If there's one fault in The Last Cruise, it's the novel's ending, which is perhaps a bit too dramatic—it requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief ... But on the other hand, the drama is consistent with the '50s-movie feel of the novel, and it seems churlish to nitpick when the overall effect is so startling and so much fun. The Last Cruise is a captivating voyage—it's a great summer read, sure, but it's well worth taking the ride no matter the time of year.
Christensen is a discerning and witty writer ... 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 ... Christensen is a master at drawing us into the interior lives of her characters, toeing the line between satire and sympathy ... Although that geopolitical metaphor is convincing, it would ultimately make for a rather schematic and dull story. Fortunately, Christensen has something more mysterious and existential in mind. She’s interested in the most intimate and profound changes we’re willing to make only when tossed by the tempest of life.
Kate Christensen’s novels hit that sweet spot between beach read and literary fiction. With unsparing wit and an eye for sensuous detail ... 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.
Christensen maneuvers adroitly among these various conundrums while highlighting her characters’ strengths and flaws. While the plot never flags, the author uses Valerie, a journalist with a nose for a juicy story, to ramp up the excitement ... The Last Cruise shades into thriller territory, but of a sophisticated, multi-layered sort. Christensen is shrewd about human behavior, and her knowledge of cruise ships, cooking and music adds convincing detail to every scene.
Portland author Kate Christensen’s take on high seas adventure is all her own, though–perceptive, sophisticated, propulsive. The Last Cruise is surely not the last word on this kind of novel, but it’s a bracing example of popular storytelling with a literary twist ... With its sparkling dialogue, charming cast of characters and seemingly low-stakes conflicts, The Last Cruise at first appears merely to be an oceanic comedy of manners ... Among its many pleasures, The Last Cruise feels especially well researched ... Christensen lays out the details with authority, not letting trivia overwhelm the pace of the narrative but lending a strong sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings ... Christensen steers the story, streamlined yet substantial, through turbulent waters, but never loses track of its current of humanity.
This is an entertaining and elegantly written story about social class, self-delusion and the fragility of second chances ... a perfect storm of a plot in which the vertical borders between the privileged and the proletariat collapse. Christensen is a sharp observer, not only of the layered social world of the Queen Isabella but of the shifting relationships between her characters ... all the while I was reading The Last Cruise I kept thinking of Barbara 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.
It’s such an innately dramatic setting: the strangers in close proximity (staff and passengers alike), with limited opportunity for escape; the bland luxury of the surroundings ... Kate Christensen’s latest page-turning novel, The Last Cruise, takes full advantage of all of this; you can practically see the movie’s opening credits ... [a] brilliant twist on the formula ... 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; we experience the drama through Christine, Miriam and Mick, and come to know them through it. Is it a literary thriller, or a novel that just happens to contain some thriller elements? Either way, it reads just fine.
The scenes of food preparation and of kitchen politics are vivid, precise, and informed and among the best in the book ... These three lives, suspended in the limbo of a sea voyage, broaden and deepen as conditions aboard the ship worsen and bring this splendid novel to a dramatic and enigmatic close, one I encourage you to encounter for yourself.
Like many novels of isolated microcosmic societies, The Last Cruise slips from a romantic storybook idyll to a struggle between haves and have nots ... Crew and passengers alike 'hover between anxious waiting, festering outrage, and a collective paralysis of will.' Then, in a stunning denouement, a savage storm rocks the crippled ship. Christensen delivers another engrossing tale rich in character and social mores that reveals the fragile veneer of civilization.
Christensen writes with tenderness but no sentimentality about the old ship and about aging human characters, too ... While Miriam dryly jokes about icebergs, what’s begun as an idyll at sea, at least for the passengers, becomes a crisis. Soon divisions between decks blur and relationships reconfigure. An entertaining mashup of Ship of Fools and Titanic.
While the author’s attempts to keep the boat isolated from contact with the outside world sometimes strain credulity, and her careful parcelling out of romantic difficulties seems less than organic, 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.